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Ventura County Sergeant Among 12 Killed by Gunman at Country Music Bar

(Ventura County Sheriff's Office)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A gunman opened fire inside a crowded country-music bar late Wednesday in Southern California, killing 12 people, including a sheriff’s deputy who had rushed inside to confront the shooter, authorities said. The gunman was later found dead inside, reported Fox News.

The gunfire erupted as people were line dancing on “College Country Night” at the Borderline Bar & Grill, a popular nightspot in Thousand Oaks, Calif., witnesses said.

Among the dead was Sgt. Ron Helus, a veteran in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. He was mortally wounded when he responded to the incident northwest of Los Angeles just minutes after 911 calls began flooding in, authorities said.

country music bar
Sgt. Ron Helus was among the 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire inside Borderline Bar & Grill. (Ventura County Sheriff’s Office)

The only weapon recovered by early Thursday was a handgun, according to The Washington Post.

The suspect was later identified as a former Marine. Read more here.

“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean told reporters. “There’s blood everywhere. The suspect is part of that.”

Dean said he had no reason to believe that there was a link to terrorism, “but we certainly will look at that option.”

Helus, the sergeant who died at the hospital about an hour after sustaining his injury, was a 29-year veteran of the department. Moreover, he was expecting to retire soon. His wife and a son survive him.

“Ron was a hardworking dedicated sheriff sergeant,” Dean said while holding back tears. “He was totally committed. He gave his all. And tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives. To save other people.”

President Trump said on Twitter that he had been briefed on the shooting, and praised the “great bravery shown by police,” adding: “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.”

In addition to the dead, Dean estimated that there were upward of 10 to 12 shooting victims who were “rescued from the scene and taken to local hospitals.” Additional victims with minor injuries fled the scene on their own, he added.

“I know there are parents wondering, ‘Oh my gosh, was one of my children in there? Or was it my sister or my brother?'” he said.

Dean said the mass shooting, at a bar packed with students from nearby colleges, “is part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere, and I think it’s impossible to put any logic or any sense to the senseless.”

Reports of a shooter came in about 11:20 p.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, and authorities arrived on the scene at 11:22 p.m., Dean said.

Helus, the sheriff’s sergeant, entered the venue with a California Highway Patrol officer several minutes later, at which point Helus was struck “multiple times,” Dean said. The sergeant was pulled to safety and rushed to the hospital, but he did not survive.

The gunfire briefly quieted, the sheriff said, as people scrambled to hide in restrooms and in attics.

“It was sheer panic,” said Teylor Whittler, 19, who was inside the venue at the time. “Everyone ran and dropped as fast as they could.”

She said she ran to the back door, where people crowded during a pause in the gunfire. “And then all, of a sudden, a couple of guys started running to the back door and said, ‘Get up he’s coming.’”

Whittler, a daughter of a military veteran, told “Fox & Friends” she was at the bar celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday when shots rang out. She said of the 11 people she was with, there are still five friends that she hasn’t heard from. She recalled getting trampled on and hit in the head with a barstool when patrons made a dash to the door. A man eventually pulled her up and helped her escape.

Whittler said the gunman “knew what he was doing.”

“While I was inside I would say [I heard]…about a good 30 seconds [of gunshots]…he had two [magazines] that I know with him. He changed them within about six seconds, which was really fast,” she said.

“As soon as he walked in he had perfect form … he looked like he knew what he was doing. He had practiced, he had been shooting [before],” she told “Fox & Friends.”

The tragedy in Thousand Oaks occurred just 13 months after 58 people were killed at a country music festival in Las Vegas, when a lone gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Chandler Gunn, 23, of Newberry Park, said a friend who works at the bar was also at Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, when a gunman fired a barrage of bullets from a hotel room perch, The Los Angeles Times reported.

“A lot of people in the Route 91 situation go here,” Gunn said. “There’s people that live a whole lifetime without seeing this, and then there’s people that have seen it twice.”

The Borderline Bar describes itself as Ventura County’s largest country dance hall and live music venue. With a dance floor covering about 2,500 square feet, it is open until 2 a.m. five days a week.

According to law enforcement authorities, there were more than 100 people inside at the time of the shooting. There are many colleges and universities within a 20-mile radius of the popular bar, including Pepperdine University, Moorpark College and California Lutheran University, which has its own line dance club.

Pepperdine officials said that multiple students from the school were at the bar during the shooting. “University officials have been working on site with law enforcement to confirm their safety and well-being, and our prayers and condolences are with everyone impacted by this senseless act of violence,” the school said.

Claire Gietzen told a reporter that she ran behind the bar when gunshots broke out, but then joined a man who pulled down a ladder leading into the attic, according to The Washington Post.

“He motioned for me to follow him. I thought that was the best option at the time,” she said. “[We heard] gunshot after gunshot. I heard glass breaking. I heard commotion and screaming. … We kept thinking it would stop for a while, that we were okay, and then it would start up again.”

SWAT teams arrived on the scene a short time later, along with the FBI. Video from the scene showed patrons rushing injured people to EMS providers.

When the authorities reentered the nightclub, they found the suspect — whom they believe to be the lone gunman — dead inside, Dean said.

“We don’t know who shot the deputy,” he added. “We don’t know who shot anybody at this point.” In the chaotic scene he said that authorities have not yet identified the suspect.

Matt Wennerstrom, 20, a regular at the bar, described the shooter as a “tall figure,” over 6 feet, wearing “all dark clothing.” He said he saw the gunman open fire on employees working at the front of the bar.

“At that point I grabbed as many people around me as I could and pulled them down underneath the pool table that we were closest to until he ran out of bullets for that magazine and had to reload,” he said.

During the pause, Wennerstrom said he and others threw bar stools through a window and helped people escape. He told the media he was able to push “30 or 35 people through that window.”

Other witnesses said the gunman was wearing black, including a hoodie.

A man and his stepfather interviewed by ABC said they heard about 12 shots before they were able to exit through the front door of the nightclub.

“He fired the first shot,” the stepfather said. “And I knew it was real. My son thought it was a joke, so I pulled him down and got some cover. I looked up, and he was moving to the right. He shot the front doorman, who was just a young man. Then he shot the cashier, just a young girl.”

Multiple eyewitnesses described seeing smoke, possibly from smoke bombs.

Rochelle Hammons, 24, told The Post that she heard four shots before she was able to flee.

“All of a sudden we heard four shots, you know, ‘bang, bang, bang, bang.’ Everyone got down on the floor. Everyone ducked and covered each other,” she said. “As everyone crouched down on the floor, I figured that my only chance would be to run out to the nearest exit. I saw the nearest exit, and I ran out as fast as I could.”

From inside her car, she saw the first police officer arrive, she said. She rolled down her window and told him there was an active shooter inside.

“You’ve got to hurry, you’ve got to get in there,” she urged him.

UPDATE: The homicidal suspect has been identified. Read more here. 

Ron Helus
(Graphics courtesy Rose Borisow GrafX)

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