Friendly fire killed sergeant re­spond­ing to mass shoot­ing Lat­est re­port adds to tragedy of Thou­sand Oaks mas­sacre

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Soumya Karlamangla

Min­utes af­ter a gun­man be­gan shoot­ing in­side Bor­der­line Bar and Grill, Sgt. Ron Helus ar­rived out­side the Thou­sand Oaks restau­rant, ready to rush in.

Pa­trons smashed win­dows to es­cape, in­jured and bloody. They raced through a park­ing lot as they fled the bar, where 28-year-old Ian Long had just killed sev­eral peo­ple.

Out­side, Helus joined a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Patrol of­fi­cer who had also come to help. When the men heard the boom of gun­shots com­ing from in­side the doors, they ran in to­gether.

The pair were am­bushed by Long, who struck Helus with five bul­lets, au­thor­i­ties say.

But amid the con­fu­sion, the sergeant was also hit by a sixth bul­let that punc­tured his heart, au­thor­i­ties re­vealed Fri­day. That shot was fired by the CHP of­fi­cer.

“Trag­i­cally, that bul­let struck vi­tal

or­gans and was fa­tal,” Ven­tura County Sher­iff Bill Ayub told re­porters.

In a somber news con­fer­ence Fri­day, of­fi­cials shared the lat­est de­vel­op­ments from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Bor­der­line shoot­ing, which left 12 peo­ple and the gun­man dead. The up­date came on the one-month an­niver­sary of the mas­sacre and pro­vided the clear­est pic­ture yet of what tran­spired in the bar that chaotic night.

The news of the sixth bul­let adds an­other layer of tragedy to an in­ci­dent that has al­ready rat­tled Thou­sand Oaks, a sub­ur­ban com­mu­nity just north­west of Los An­ge­les. The friendly fire also raises ques­tions about how pre­pared of­fi­cers are to charge into mass shoot­ing scenes.

About 11:20 p.m. Nov. 7, the crack of gun­fire echoed through Bor­der­line as Long fired a .45-cal­iber Glock hand­gun. He also tossed smoke bombs that con­trib­uted to the chaos.

Helus, 54, was on the phone with his wife when those first shots were fired.

“I gotta go han­dle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later,” he told Karen, his wife of 29 years.

Helus and the CHP of­fi­cer, the first law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to re­spond to the shoot­ing, ex­changed gun­fire with Long when they en­tered the bar. But of­fi­cials said nei­ther hit Long, who was a for­mer U.S. Ma­rine ma­chine-gun­ner.

Helus sus­tained mul­ti­ple gun­shot wounds, and the CHP of­fi­cer dragged him out of the build­ing and from the line of fire. The 29-year vet­eran of the Ven­tura County Sher­iff’s Of­fice was later pro­nounced dead.

Ven­tura County Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Christo­pher Young said Fri­day that the five bul­let wounds from Long’s pis­tol caused “se­ri­ous in­juries, but po­ten­tially sur­viv­able in­juries.”

Foren­sic anal­y­sis re­vealed that the bul­let sur­geons pulled from Helus’ heart was shot from a ri­fle, of­fi­cials said. The of­fi­cers were both car­ry­ing ri­fles.

“This is sad news and a tragedy, but ul­ti­mately this was the most se­vere in­jury sus­tained,” Young said.

Young said two of the six bul­lets that struck Helus hit his pro­tec­tive vest — but near the edge, mak­ing the ar­mor less ef­fec­tive.

He would not say whether the bul­let fired by the CHP of­fi­cer hit Helus from the front or the back. Helus was po­si­tioned be­tween Long and the of­fi­cer when he en­tered the bar, au­thor­i­ties said. L.D. Maples, chief of the CHP’s Coastal Divi­sion, said the round was “tar­geted to­ward the sus­pect.”

Ayub said of­fi­cials were in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the gun mis­fired or the of­fi­cer mis­took Helus for Long. He em­pha­sized that the up­date in “no way di­min­ishes the heroic ac­tions both men ex­hib­ited at the Bor­der­line” and that all blame for the vi­o­lence that night lies with Long.

“Both Sgt. Helus and the CHP of­fi­cer know­ingly and will­ingly went into what can only be de­scribed as a com­bat sit­u­a­tion, risk­ing their own lives to save many oth­ers,” Ayub said. “It is a fact that many lives were saved that night.”

Long did not fire any more shots af­ter his ex­change with the of­fi­cers, other than one that he used to take his own life. He was found in­side the bar with a sin­gle gun­shot wound to the head, which an au­topsy con­firmed was self-in­flicted.

Other than Helus, no one else who died was hit by friendly fire, of­fi­cials said.

Maples said he in­formed the of­fi­cer Thurs­day that the bul­let from his ri­fle had fa­tally struck Helus. The of­fi­cer was dev­as­tated, he said.

The nine-year vet­eran of the CHP, who has a mil­i­tary back­ground, is tak­ing some vol­un­tary time off. His name has not been re­leased.

“The mere thought of some­thing like this hap­pen­ing is dev­as­tat­ing to all of us who are sworn to pro­tect and save lives,” said Maples, his ex­pres­sion grim.

Of­fi­cials said they did not know whether the of­fi­cer and Helus pre­vi­ously knew each other.

The Thou­sand Oaks shoot­ing, one of the dead­li­est in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­tory, came just 11 days af­ter an­other mass shoot­ing at a syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh. A year ear­lier was the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory, at a mu­sic fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas.

When asked by a re­porter whether all law en­force­ment should re­ceive SWAT-style train­ing to re­spond to ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tions, Ayub said he be­lieves what hap­pened was not pre­ventable.

“It was just a tragic de­tail that un­folded so rapidly. In my view, it was un­avoid­able,” he said. “It was just a hor­rific scene that the two men en­coun­tered in­side the bar.”

Ayub said sher­iff ’s deputies are trained to re­spond to ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tions, but he could not re­call a joint train­ing with the CHP. He said that with the large num­ber of agen­cies that re­sponded to the Bor­der­line shoot­ing — and that in gen­eral re­spond to such events — it was un­re­al­is­tic to do joint train­ing with ev­ery agency.

The news de­liv­ers a painful blow to the lo­cal law en­force­ment com­mu­nity, which has been work­ing to­gether to re­spond to the shoot­ing and fires in the re­gion.

CHP Com­mis­sioner War­ren Stan­ley said the agency was “pro­foundly sad­dened” to learn of the new de­vel­op­ments and ex­tended con­do­lences to Helus’ fam­ily, friends and col­leagues.

The news “un­der­scores the dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous cir­cum­stances law en­force­ment faces, of­ten with only mere sec­onds to re­act,” he said.

Helus’ fu­neral last month drew sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple, most of them of­fi­cers in uni­form. He was the first Ven­tura County sher­iff ’s of­fi­cer to die in Thou­sand Oaks, which con­tracts with the agency for po­lice ser­vices.

The Thou­sand Oaks City Coun­cil is look­ing into cre­at­ing a me­mo­rial vis­i­ble on the 101 Free­way to honor him as well as re­nam­ing a street near the bar af­ter him.

“We’ve named streets and build­ings af­ter other folks in town who’ve con­trib­uted a lot to this com­mu­nity but cer­tainly didn’t give their life,” said Thou­sand Oaks Mayor Andy Fox at a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing.

On Fri­day, at a makeshift me­mo­rial near the bar, flow­ers were piled high in front of a pic­ture of Helus. Some­one scrawled on the side­walk: “You are a hero. Thank you for your brav­ery.”

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

FLOW­ERS are piled at a me­mo­rial Fri­day for Ven­tura County Sher­iff ’s Sgt. Ron Helus and the other vic­tims of last month’s shoot­ing at Bor­der­line Bar and Grill. Helus ar­rived on scene min­utes af­ter shots were fired.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

HELUS was shot five times by the gun­man, but a sixth bul­let that punc­tured his heart was fired by a CHP of­fi­cer. Above, Helus’ fu­neral Nov. 15.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

VEN­TURA COUNTY Sher­iff Bill Ayub, left, and other of­fi­cials up­date re­porters Fri­day on the Thou­sand Oaks shoot­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pa­trick T. Fal­lon For The Times

AU­THOR­I­TIES search Bor­der­line Bar and Grill af­ter a gun­man opened fire the night of Nov. 7. The gun­man killed him­self af­ter a chaotic fire­fight with po­lice.

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