Marine vet­eran in­dis­crim­i­nately opens fire on crowded ‘Col­lege Coun­try Night’

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - SOUTH­ERN CALIFORNA MASS SHOOT­ING By Katie Zez­ima, Mark Berman, Lind­sey Bever and Isaac Stan­ley-Becker

THOU­SAND OAKS » A gun­man fir­ing seem­ingly at ran­dom killed a dozen peo­ple in­side a crowded coun­try mu­sic bar in Thou­sand Oaks late Wed­nes­day, au­thor­i­ties said, a toll that in­cluded a sher­iff’s sergeant who had raced in­side to con­front the at­tacker.

Au­thor­i­ties said the gun­man — iden­ti­fied as Ian David Long, a 28-year- old Marine vet­eran who was cleared by a men­tal-health spe­cial­ist af­ter an en­counter with po­lice ear­lier this year — was found dead in­side af­ter ap­par­ently killing him­self. Ven­tura County Sher­iff Ge­off Dean said Thurs­day morn­ing that in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not been able to de­ter­mine a mo­tive.

The blood­shed spread through­out the Border­line Bar & Grill, a pop­u­lar nightspot in Thou­sand Oaks, north­west of Los An­ge­les. When the gun­fire be­gan, peo­ple were line danc­ing dur­ing the venue’s “Col­lege Coun­try Night,” wit­nesses said. That de­tail evoked the mas­sacre of 58 peo­ple at a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas a lit­tle more than a year ear­lier — a con­nec­tion deep­ened when some of those who es­caped Border­line said they had also sur­vived that mas­sacre.

Po­lice said Long, wear­ing a black sweater and wield­ing a .45 cal­iber Glock hand­gun with an

ex­tended mag­a­zine, ap­proached the bar and shot a se­cu­rity guard stand­ing out­side. He then headed in and shot other em­ploy­ees be­fore turn­ing his fire on pa­trons, Dean said.

“It’s a hor­rific scene in there,” said Dean, who is set to re­tire tonight. “There’s blood every­where.”

The gun­fire set off a panic, as pa­trons grimly fa­mil­iar with sto­ries of shoot­ing ram­pages at churches, schools, movie the­aters, of­fices and other lo­ca­tions across the coun­try scram­bled for safety and shel­ter.

“They ran out of back doors, they broke win­dows, they went through win­dows, they hid up in the at­tic, they hid in the bath­room,” Dean said. “Un­for­tu­nately, our young peo­ple, peo­ple at night­clubs, have learned that this may hap­pen. They think about that. For­tu­nately, it prob­a­bly saved a lot of lives that they fled the scene so rapidly.”

Ben­jamin Gins­burg, 23, said he hid un­der a ta­ble and then, hear­ing gun­fire from the front, ran with other peo­ple to­ward the rear ex­its. Tey­lor Whittler, 19, said a man named Ethan “picked me up be­cause I kept get­ting ... tram­pled,” car­ry­ing her out the back door and sav­ing her life. She said many peo­ple then hid be­hind bushes, in their cars or un­der­neath the ve­hi­cles in the park­ing lot.

Among the dead was Ron Helus, 54, a sergeant in the Ven­tura County Sher­iff’s Of­fice who was mor­tally wounded when he re­sponded to the in­ci­dent just min­utes af­ter 911 calls be­gan flood­ing in, au­thor­i­ties said.

Helus and a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cer headed into the club and ex­changed fire with the at­tacker, Dean said. Helus, a 29-year vet­eran of the force with a grown son, had been on the phone with his wife when he got the call about the shoot­ing and headed to the club, Dean said. Dur­ing the shootout, he was struck sev­eral times.

“He died a hero,” Dean said, his voice crack­ing, “be­cause he went in to save lives.”

The car­nage added Thou­sand Oaks to the seem­ingly end­less list of Amer­i­can cities to ex­pe­ri­ence a mass shoot­ing. The vi­o­lence came just days af- ter 11 peo­ple were gunned down in a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue, months af­ter 17 stu­dents and staff were mas­sa­cred in a Park­land, Florida, high school and a year af­ter ram­pages in Las Ve­gas and Suther­land Springs, Texas, killed a com­bined 84 peo­ple.

The lat­est at­tack car­ried echoes and reminders of oth­ers. The de­scrip­tions of chaos in­side the club were sim­i­lar to those re­ported dur­ing the slaugh­ter of 49 club­go­ers at Pulse night­club in Or­lando, Florida, in 2016; the ram­page in Cal­i­for­nia oc­curred about 100 miles west of a com­mu­nity cen­ter where 14 were killed dur­ing a 2015 ter­ror at­tack in San Bernardino.

Dean al­luded to the ear­lier at­tacks, say­ing the car­nage in Border­line “is part of the hor­rors that are hap­pen­ing in our coun­try and every­where, and I think it’s im­pos­si­ble to put any logic or any sense to the sense­less.”

When asked what it looked like in­side the venue, Dean re­sponded, “Like hell.”

Gov. Jerry Brown said in a state­ment that “our hearts ache to­day for the vic­tims of this heinous act” and thanked Helus and other law en­force­ment of­fi­cials “who took heroic ac­tion to save lives.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or­dered flags to be flown at half-staff un­til sun­set Satur­day in re­sponse to the “ter­ri­ble act of vi­o­lence per­pe­trated in Thou­sand Oaks.”

In ad­di­tion to those slain at the club, Dean said he be­lieved be­tween eight and 15 other peo­ple were in­jured, mostly with cuts from div­ing un­der ta­bles and jump­ing through win­dows. One per­son had a mi­nor gun- shot in­jury, he said.

Cody Coff­man, a 22-yearold who had been talk­ing to re­cruiters about ful­fill­ing his dream of join­ing the Army, was among those killed, his fa­ther said Thurs­day morn­ing.

“I am speech­less and heart­bro­ken,” Ja­son Coff­man said out­side the Thou­sand Oaks Teen Cen­ter, where fam­i­lies gath­ered in the wake of the at­tack.

Coff­man, at times so over­whelmed he could not speak, leaned on his fa­therin-law to steady him­self. He said he last saw his son as the younger man was head­ing out for the night.

“The last thing I said was, ‘Son, I love you,’” he said.

Sarah Deson, 19, said Cody Coff­man stood in front of her as the shooter ap­proached from the front en­trance. Coff­man yelled for ev­ery­one to get down and told her to run for the front door as the shooter moved far­ther into the bar, she said.

“Cody saved so many peo­ple last night. He was shield­ing peo­ple and get- ting them out,” she said.

What could have mo­ti­vated the at­tack re­mained a mys­tery to au­thor­i­ties, Dean said.

The Marine Corps said Long served be­tween Au­gust 2008 and March 2013. He served as a ma­chine gun­ner in Afghanistan from Novem­ber 2010 to June 2011 and be­came a cor­po­ral two months later. Cal State Northridge said Long was a for­mer stu­dent who last at­tended in 2016.

Long lived in New­bury Park, a town near Thou­sand Oaks. Po­lice have had “sev­eral con­tacts” with Long over the years, Dean said, most of them for mi­nor events in­clud­ing traf­fic ac­ci­dents. In April, deputies were called to Long’s home for a dis­tur­bance call, Dean said.

“They went to the house, they talked to him,” he said. “He was some­what irate, act­ing a lit­tle ir­ra­tionally. They called out our cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion team, our men­tal- health spe­cial­ist, who met with him, talked to him and cleared him.”


Peo­ple await word about the fate of loved ones at the Thou­sand Oaks Teen Cen­ter af­ter a shoot­ing at the nearby Border­line Bar & Grill on Wed­nes­day night. Thir­teen peo­ple, in­clud­ing a sher­iff’s deputy and the shooter, died in the mas­sacre.





Peo­ple cry as a law en­force­ment mo­tor­cade es­corts the body of Ven­tura County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment Sgt. Ron Helus from the Los Robles Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter Thurs­day in Thou­sand Oaks.


Mike John­ston, left, and his son-in-law, Ja­son Coff­man, em­brace while Coff­man speaks to the me­dia af­ter find­ing out his son, Cody, died in the shoot­ing.

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