Gunman kills 12, then self
Former Marine opens fire at bar crowded with college students
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Using a smoke bomb and a handgun, a hooded former Marine dressed all in black opened fire during college night at a country music bar in Southern California, killing 12 people and sending hundreds fleeing in panic before apparently taking his own life, authorities said Thursday.
Authorities said the motive for the attack Wednesday night was under investigation.
The killer was identified as Ian David Long, a 28-year-old veteran who authorities said had an episode of erratic behaviour last spring that was thought to be posttraumatic stress disorder because of his military background.
Screaming in fear, patrons rushed for the exits, ducked under tables and hurled barstools to smash second-floor windows and jump to safety as gunfire erupted at the Borderline Bar & Grill, a hangout popular with students from nearby California Lutheran University.
“I dropped to the floor,” Sarah Rose DeSon told ABC’s Good Morning America. “A friend yelled, ‘Everybody down!’ We were hiding behind tables trying to keep ourselves covered.”
The dead included 11 people inside the bar and a veteran sheriff’s sergeant who was the first officer inside the door, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said in the parking lot. “There’s blood everywhere.”
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since 17 students and teachers were killed at a Parkland, Fla., high school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn.
That, in turn, closely followed the series of pipe bombs mailed to critics of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Long was armed with a Glock 21, a .45-calibre designed to hold 10 rounds plus one in the chamber, according to the sheriff. But it had an extended magazine — one capable of holding more ammunition — that is illegal in California, Dean said.
The killer also deployed a smoke device, a law enforcement official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities began a search of Long’s home in Newbury Park, about 8 km from the Borderline bar, for clues to what set him off.
“There’s no indication that he targeted the employees. We haven’t found any correlation,” the sheriff said. “Maybe there was a motive for this particular night, but we have no information leading to that at all.”
Dean said his department had several previous contacts with Long, including a call to his home in April, when deputies found him angry and acting irrationally because of what authorities thought might have been PTSD. A mental health crisis team was called and concluded Long did not need to be taken into custody, Dean said.
Dean said the other prior encounters were a traffic accident and an incident in which Long was the victim of a battery at a bar.
The gunman was tall and wearing all black with a hood and his face partly covered, witnesses told TV stations. He first shot a security guard standing outside, then went in and opened fire on staff members and patrons, the sheriff said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a passing highway patrolman arrived at the Borderline around 11:20 p.m. in response to several 911 calls, heard gunfire and went inside, the sheriff said.
Helus was immediately hit with multiple gunshots, Dean said. The highway patrolman pulled Helus out, then waited as a SWAT team and scores more officers arrived. Helus died early Thursday at a hospital.
By the time officers entered the bar again, the gunfire had stopped, according to the sheriff. They found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman, who was discovered in office and had apparently shot himself, the sheriff said.
“There’s no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect,” said Dean, who was set to retire on Friday. He praised the slain officer — a close friend — as a hero: “He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price.”
In addition to the dead, one other person was wounded by gunfire, and as many as 15 others suffered minor injuries from jumping out windows or diving under tables, authorities said.
Shootings of any kind are extremely rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 64 km west of Los Angeles, just across the county line.
The Borderline, which includes a large dance hall along with several smaller areas for eating and drinking, was holding its regular “College Country Nights” when the attack took place.
The slain sheriff’s officer was a 29-year veteran of the force with a wife and son and planned to retire in the coming year, said the sheriff, choking back tears.
“Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant who was totally committed,” Dean said, “and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives.”
People comfort each other as they sit near the scene where a gunman opened fire inside a country dance bar crowded with hundreds of people, killing 12 people including a deputy who rushed to the scene.