A gunman threw smoke bombs and rained bullets on a crowd of more than a hundred people inside a Thousand Oaks bar Wednesday night, killing a dozen patrons and a Ventura County sheriff’s sergeant who was trying to stop the carnage.
The gunman, identified by law enforcement sources as Ian Long, 29, of Newbury Park, died in the incident. The shooter was dressed in black when he burst into the Borderline Bar & Grill, a country music-themed venue popular with college students, around 11:20 p.m., according to Sheriff Geoff Dean.
A law enforcement source, who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the shooter was armed with a Glock .45-caliber handgun and a “smoke device.”
The shooter drove his mother’s car to the bar and did not say anything before opening fire, the official said.
Authorities said sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer entered the bar first and were met with gunfire from the suspect. Helus was shot several times and died at an area hospital early Thursday morning, according to Dean.
Helus, a 29-year Sheriff’s Department veteran who was planning to retire next year, died “a hero,” Dean said.
He is survived by a son and his wife, whom he called before entering the bar, Dean said.
“It doesn’t matter how safe your community is, it doesn’t matter how low your crime rate is — there are people who just don’t think properly everywhere, I don’t care where you are, and they commit horrific acts like this. There’s no way to process,” Dean said. “There’s no way to make sense out of the senseless.”
The first 911 calls reporting the shooting were received around 11:20 p.m., according to Dean. Helus and the CHP officer arrived and engaged the suspect by 11:26 p.m., he said.
A motive in the shooting was not immediately clear, but Dean said there was no evidence linking the attack to terrorism.
Eleven victims and the shooter were found dead inside the bar. It was not immediately clear whether the shooter took his own life.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said. “There’s blood everywhere.”
Witnesses reported a terrifying scene as gunfire echoed through the club and those inside ran for cover, in some cases using chairs to break windows to escape. Several dived behind a pool table to shield themselves from bullets, while others hid in bathrooms and in the attic as they frantically called loved ones who were hearing reports of the shooting.
Several people who escaped the bar described a gunman clad in a black shirt, black hat and black glasses. He seemed to concentrate fire on the front of the venue, where there were several employees as soon as he entered, witnesses said.
“He just pulled out a gun and shot my friend that was working the front desk,” said Holden Harrah, 21.
Matthew Wennerstrom, a regular at Borderline, said he had been inside about an hour when he heard what he described as an unmistakable sound: a gunshot. Wennerstrom said that as the shooter concentrated his fire on the front desk, he pulled as many people as he could to the floor and under a pool table.
He said he tried to quiet those around him and count the shots fired. Wennerstrom said that when the assailant seemed to be reloading, he urged people to smash open some of the bar’s windows with chairs, hoping to escape before the next volley of gunfire came.
“All I could think about was how helpless I was,” he said.
Teylor Whittler went to Borderline to celebrate her 21st birthday on Wednesday night. She said she was dancing with friends in the bar when she heard what sounded like firecrackers. She quickly turned and followed the noise, only to find a man holding a gun near the entrance.
Erika Sigman, 19, said she began to race toward an exit as soon as screams erupted.
“I’m a Thousand Oaks resident,” she said. “This is a safe place. My parents let me go here. This is a trusted place. … To know that this happened in my safe place is a very, very scary thing.”
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was sent to the scene, according to an agency spokeswoman. Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were dispatched.
An additional 18 victims who were injured while trying to escape but were not shot were received at area hospitals in the hours after the shooting, according to Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Stan Ziegler. The severity of their injuries was not immediately known.
Wednesday nights are college-themed nights open to students as young as 18, according to the bar’s website. Witnesses said the event is popular with Moorpark college students, and the Pepperdine student newspaper tweeted that students from its campus also were inside at the time of the shooting.
Classes at nearby Cal Lutheran University were canceled Thursday in the wake of the shooting.
Some witnesses said the bar is a hub for country music fans. They said many of the attendees Wednesday night normally attended the Stagecoach country music festival in Indio and, tragically, some were survivors of last year’s massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas that left 58 dead last year.
Large crowds formed in the area as friends and family members arrived at the scene to try to find out whether loved ones had survived the assault. Some who escaped the gunfire could be seen frantically talking on cellphones, desperate to get information on friends or family members who may have been trapped inside. Others announced the names of the people they were searching for as they gave live television interviews.
A hotline has been established for those seeking information about their loved ones, according to the Ventura County Fire Department, which urged people to call (805) 465-6650. A family reunification center also was established at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where Mayor Pro Tem Rob McCoy was seen around 3:30 a.m.
McCoy embraced one couple as they walked up. Inside, he said, the mood was “somber.”
He said officials do not yet have names of the victims.
“It’s going to be real heavy when that information comes in,” he said.
At nearby Los Robles Regional Medical Center, friends and family frantically searched for loved ones they hoped were not among the victims. Adam Housley, who until six weeks ago was a national correspondent for Fox News, arrived at the hospital around 3:30 a.m. searching for his niece. A guard didn’t let him through, saying the facility was on lockdown.
He said his niece, 18-year-old Pepperdine freshman Alaina Housley, had been at the bar with several friends. Her Apple Watch and iPhone still showed her location as being on the dance floor, he said.
“My gut is saying she’s inside the bar, dead,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m wrong.”
Housley said he comes from a small, tight-knit family. But he’s been on the scene during mass shootings before as a reporter.
“You just don’t think that — same stupid quote — you just don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” he said.
Some of those who were inside the bar recounted near misses with the gunman. Nellie Wong, who was celebrating her 21st birthday on Wednesday night, said she dove to the floor when shots rang out. Wong said she believed that the gunman was dressed in a black hoodie, black shirt and black pants with a scarf obscuring his face and that he threw smoke bombs as he entered.
“Thank goodness he didn’t see me at all. I immediately stopped moving, stopped breathing,” said Wong, a student at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo.
Tim Dominguez has been going to the bar for 16 years. He said he normally wouldn’t have been there on a Wednesday because it’s college night, but his 26-year-old son wanted to go, so they went and played pool. He said they were preparing to leave when Dominguez heard a couple of shots and saw the bouncer fall to the ground. People were line-dancing as the shots rang out, he said.
“Then he turned to the right and shot the cashier,” Dominguez said. “And then he just kept on shooting.”
The gunman continued shooting toward a crowd of about 40 people on the dance floor, he said.
“He shot quick. He was good at it,” Dominguez said, “like he knew what he was doing.”
Dominguez said that as he and his son ran from the bar, they yelled for people to get down. Though he and his son are safe, Dominguez is wrestling with what he could have done differently.
“I feel guilty that I left,” he said. “That guilt that I could have done something more.”
Aubrey Ryan, 27, of Newbury Park, said she was in the front of the restaurant with at least 15 friends when a man came in and started shooting at the ceiling.
She said the gunman shouted something but that she could not hear what he said. A friend threw her onto an outdoor balcony as the gunfire rang out so she could escape, she said.
This is the second time this year Thousand Oaks has seen violence in a crowded area. In March, a man shot and killed his wife before attempting to shoot himself at the Thousand Oaks Mall.
Around 1:30 a.m., dozens of people lined the sidewalk in Moorpark as police lights flashed through the darkness. Some sat on a concrete hill and watched from their perch.
Employees and people who had friends inside the bar huddled together, some hugging and asking one another if they had any updates from loved ones.
Tyler Odekirk, 21, started working at the bar as a security guard two months ago. He said he knew “everybody” at the bar Wednesday night because he was there so often, but he was struggling to reach friends.
“I can’t get anything to anybody that’s in there,” he said. “I had a friend call me in a panic thinking that I was there.”
Carl Edgar, a 24-year-old Tarzana resident, said he had about 20 friends inside the bar, where he is a regular. The bar is an extremely popular hangout for Moorpark College students on Wednesday nights, according to Edgar, who was speaking with friends who were inside when the shooting began.
One texted him that she was hiding in a bathroom, fearing for her life. But Edgar said he was hopeful that his friends were safe.
Some of them, sadly, had been through this before.
“There are a few people we can’t get a hold of, but in these situations people usually turn off their phones to be safe so I’m not gonna get too worried. A lot of my friends survived Route 91,” he said. “If they survived that, they will survive this.”
(Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Andrea Castillo contributed to this report.)
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