‘He gave his all … and tonight he died a hero’

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - CAMERON STEW­ART Cameron Stew­art is also US con­trib­u­tor for Sky News Aus­tralia

Ron Helus, a vet­eran sergeant with the Ven­tura County Sher­iff’s of­fice, was on the phone to his wife when he heard re­ports of gun­fire in a nearby bar.

Sergeant Helus, who was due to re­tire from the force next year, raced to the Border­line Bar and Grill in Thou­sand Oaks, near Los An­ge­les, and didn’t hes­i­tate as he and a high­way pa­trol­man stormed into the bar af­ter 11.20pm on Wed­nes­day (6.20pm Thurs­day, AEDT).

There, for­mer US marine Ian David Long was busy killing. The 28-year-old, who had been a ma­chine-gun­ner in Afghanistan, was pick­ing off col­lege stu­dents in the crowded bar with his .45 cal­i­bre Glock hand­gun.

Sergeant Helus burst into the bar amid the screams and smoke but Long was wait­ing, fir­ing a vol­ley of shots.

The high­way pa­trol­man dragged the mor­tally wounded Sergeant Helus out as Long con­tin­ued to shoot in­dis­crim­i­nately at stu­dents who mo­ments ear­lier had been line-danc­ing to coun­try mu­sic at the pop­u­lar bar.

By the time a po­lice SWAT team moved in, the shoot­ing had stopped. They found 11 bod­ies amid pools of blood, and the body of Long, who had ap­par­ently killed him­self.

Now au­thor­i­ties are try­ing to piece to­gether the story and mo­tives be­hind yet an­other mass shoot­ing in the US, the sec­ond in two weeks af­ter the slaugh­ter of 11 peo­ple at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue.

Po­lice re­vealed that Long was a for­mer marine who had re­cently been ex­am­ined for men­tal heath is­sues.

They do not yet have a mo­tive for the shoot­ing but said Long had a his­tory of un­usual be­hav­iour. He was re­cently in­ter­viewed by po­lice at his home af­ter he dis­played “ag­i­tated be­hav­iour” that au­thor­i­ties sus­pected might have been linked to post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Long was a marine from 2008 and 2013, serv­ing in Afghanistan from No­vem­ber 2010 un­til June 2011. He was pro­moted to cor­po­ral in late 2011.

Ven­tura County Sher­iff Ge­off Dean said Long lived close to the city of Thou­sand Oaks, where the shoot­ing took place.

He did not have a crim­i­nal record but Sher­iff Dean said po­lice had had “sev­eral con­tacts” with him for traf­fic ac­ci­dents.

He said that in April po­lice were called to his home af­ter a dis­tur­bance was re­ported.

“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.”

A for­mer room­mate told The Wash­ing­ton Post Long was “quiet, re­ally, re­ally quiet” and prone to un­usual be­hav­iour — such as danc­ing alone in the garage to trance mu­sic — but he never saw signs of men­tal-health is­sues.

A neigh­bour told CNN that Long’s mother “lived in fear” of what her son might do and when po­lice went to his house in April, “it took them about half a day to get him out of the house”.

Long walked into the Border­line Bar and Grill wear­ing black clothes with a hood, car­ry­ing smoke grenades. He had bought the gun legally but had at­tached ex­tended mag­a­zines to it, which is il­le­gal.

He sprayed bul­lets through the crowded bar as pa­trons dived to the floor and hid be­hind ta­bles. Some threw chairs through the win­dows so they could jump out, oth­ers tried to crawl to­wards the ex­its as Long con­tin­ued to fire at any­one he could see.

Tey­lor Whit­tler told The New York Times that peo­ple in the bar yelled for ev­ery­one to get down af­ter Long be­gan to shoot.

“I saw him shoot … he knew what he was do­ing. He had per­fect form. Peo­ple started run­ning to the back door,” she said, and then she heard some­one shout, “Get out — he’s com­ing.”

Ja­son Coff­man sobbed yes­ter­day as he heard that his 22-yearold son Cody had been killed in the mas­sacre. “This is a heart I will never get back,” he told CNN. “Oh Cody, I love you, son.

“The first thing I said (to him last night) was ‘Please don’t drink and drive’. The last thing I said was ‘Son, I love you’.”

Sher­iff Dean said that the brav­ery of Sergeant Helus — the 12th vic­tim — in en­ter­ing the bar while the shoot­ing was go­ing on had saved lives. “He was to­tally com­mit­ted, he gave his all, and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero,” he said. “He went in to save lives — to save other peo­ple.

“There’s no doubt that they saved lives by go­ing in there and en­gag­ing with the sus­pect.

“He went in there to save peo­ple and paid the ul­ti­mate price.”

Don­ald Trump praised the “great brav­ery shown by po­lice”, and said in a tweet: “God bless all of the vic­tims and fam­i­lies of the vic­tims.”

The Pres­i­dent or­dered the na­tional flag to be flown at half­mast across the coun­try.

REUTERS, AP

Clock­wise from main: Mourn­ers re­act out­side a re­cep­tion cen­tre for fam­i­lies of vic­tims in the Thou­sand Oaks mass shoot­ing; Ven­tura County Sher­iff ’s Sergeant Ron Helus, who was shot and killed; Sergeant Helus’s body is trans­ferred to a hearse for a pro­ces­sion through the city

Ian David Long

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