BLOODSHED AT BAR AN UGLY REMINDER
Marine veteran indiscriminately opens fire on crowded ‘College Country Night’
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.