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