O∞cer fa­tally struck by friendly fire in shoot­ing

Po­lice: Bul­let that killed Sgt. Helus was shot by patrol of­fi­cer amid chaos

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY MARK BER­MAN

The vet­eran po­lice of­fi­cer shot and killed while rush­ing to con­front a mass shooter in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., last month was fa­tally struck by friendly fire rather than bul­lets fired by the gun­man, au­thor­i­ties said Fri­day.

The grim rev­e­la­tion, made pub­lic a month af­ter the Nov. 7 mas­sacre at the Bor­der­line Bar and Grill, adds an­other tragic el­e­ment to what wit­nesses and au­thor­i­ties have de­scribed as a chaotic, ter­ri­fy­ing scene at the coun­try-mu­sic venue.

When the gun­fire ended, a dozen peo­ple had been fa­tally wounded — in­clud­ing Ven­tura County Sher­iff ’s Sgt. Ron Helus, 54 — and the gun­man had killed him­self with a sin­gle shot to his head. Po­lice have iden­ti­fied the at­tacker as 28-year-old Ian David Long, who had a his­tory of an­gry be­hav­ior, and said they are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing what could have mo­ti­vated the ram­page.

Helus re­sponded to re­ports of the shoot­ing by head­ing with a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Patrol of­fi­cer into “what can only be de­scribed as a com­bat sit­u­a­tion,” Ven­tura County Sher­iff Bill Ayub said dur­ing a somber briefing Fri­day. Ayub said af­ter Long shot bar pa­trons and em­ploy­ees, he waited for law en­force­ment to re­spond and then “al­most im­me­di­ately” be­gan shoot­ing at them.

“Sgt. Helus was struck five times by gun­fire from the sus­pect,” Ayub said. “To­day, I’m deeply sad­dened to in­form you that Sgt. Helus was also struck by a sixth bul­let, which we now know . . . was fired from the CHP of­fi­cer’s ri­fle.”

That sixth bul­let was fa­tal, Ayub said. The gun­man’s bul­lets hit Helus and “caused se­ri­ous in­juries but po­ten­tially sur­viv­able in­juries,” Christo­pher Young, the Ven­tura County chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner, said at the news con­fer­ence. But the high­way patrol of­fi­cer’s bul­let hit Helus’s chest and his heart, Young said.

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

The high­way patrol of­fi­cer was not iden­ti­fied; the agency de­scribed him as a nine-year vet­eran of that force who is cur­rently not on duty.

“He’s dev­as­tated,” said L.D. Maples, chief of the high­way patrol’s coastal divi­sion.

The ex­pla­na­tion for Helus’s death speaks to the fren­zied, dan­ger­ous and of­ten un­clear sit­u­a­tions faced by law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who head to ac­tive shoot­ing scenes. Of­fi­cers re­spond­ing to such at­tacks across the coun­try have later de­scribed the sheer ter­ror and con­fu­sion they en­coun­tered, in some cases not know­ing how many at­tack­ers were open­ing fire or en­ter­ing rooms with­out know­ing whether a shooter was poised be­hind the door ready to fire.

That con­fu­sion can also lead to fa­tal mis­takes for law en­force­ment of­fi­cers try­ing to help. Prince Ge­orge’s De­tec­tive Ja­cai Col­son was re­spond­ing to an at­tack on a po­lice sta­tion in 2016 when an­other of­fi­cer, mis­tak­ing Col­son for a threat, shot and killed him.

In Thou­sand Oaks, Ayub said Helus “was clearly not the in­tended tar­get” of the shot that killed him. While Ayub said spe­cific facets of that shot were still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, he noted that the scene in­side the bar was dark, smoke-filled and un­fold­ing rapidly.

“This is a tragic de­tail that I don’t think was avoid­able,” he said.

Po­lice have said Long fired more than 50 rounds from a Glock .45-cal­iber pis­tol dur­ing his at­tack in­side Bor­der­line. He lobbed smoke grenades that fu­eled the con­fu­sion in­side, au­thor­i­ties say, send­ing peo­ple who were flee­ing the car­nage leap­ing through win­dows or scram­bling for shel­ter in the bar’s at­tic. Young, the med­i­cal ex­am­iner, has said he has no ev­i­dence suggest­ing any other vic­tims were struck or killed by the re­spond­ing of­fi­cers.

The sher­iff said he rested blame for Helus’s death — as well as the other deaths and in­juries that re­sulted from the mas­sacre — solely with the at­tacker, whom Ayub did not name dur­ing his news briefing.

“He alone cre­ated the vi­o­lence and he alone bears the re­spon­si­bil­ity for his course of ac­tion,” Ayub said. “He went there with a plan and a pur­pose and that was to take in­no­cent lives. The bur­den lies solely with him, not those who tried to save lives, those who tried to es­cape and cer­tainly not with those who died while sim­ply try­ing to en­joy an evening with friends.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sher­iff ’s Sgt. Ron Helus was killed in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif.

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