Updated at 11:25 a.m. ET
A gunman killed 12 people and injured several more at a country music bar in Ventura County, Calif., late Wednesday, police said. When the shooting started, the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks likely held hundreds of people, drawn by College Country Night.
The dead include Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of law enforcement who died at a nearby hospital, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told reporters early Thursday.
After the shooting was reported about 11:20 p.m. local time, Helus entered the building along with a highway patrol officer and was shot multiple times.
“He died a hero. He went in to save lives, to save other people,” Dean said. He also said the 54-year-old sergeant had been slated to retire next year.
As the gunman approached the bar, “he shot a security guard outside, and went inside and continued to fire, and killed 11 people inside,” the sheriff told NPR.
The victims who had been inside the club when the shooting started seemed to be from 19 to 25 years old, Dean said. Investigators are still working to identify them, and families have not yet been notified.
The sheriff identified the suspected gunman as Ian David Long, 28, of nearby Newbury Park.
The suspect used a Glock 21 .45-caliber pistol with an extended magazine, Dean said, adding that “we don’t know if he reloaded his weapon or not. He said Long purchased the gun legally.
Investigators were in the process of getting search warrants for Long’s house and for the car that he drove to the club, Dean said in a news briefing after the sun had risen over the crime scene.
When asked what the scene looks like inside the Borderline bar, Dean replied, “Like hell.”
Some witnesses have said the gunman used smoke bombs inside the club; Dean said his office has heard those reports but has not yet confirmed them.
The gunman was found in an office near the entrance to the club, the sheriff said, adding “We believe he shot himself” after an initial exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers. Dean also said that the shooting inside the club stopped after Helus and the other officer intervened.
When the shooting started, about six off-duty officers from various agencies were inside the club, Dean said. Amid the horrific scene, he added, those officers helped to save or protect civilians.
“I’ve already talked to a parent that came up and said, ‘They stood in front of my daughter,’ ” Dean said. “So, it was amazing. It was amazing.”
The sheriff said that Long was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and that earlier this year, deputies who were called to his house were concerned he may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We’ve had several contacts with Mr. Long over the years,” Dean said, “minor events such as a traffic collision; he was the victim of battery at a local bar in 2015.”
“In April of this year, deputies were called to his house for a ‘subject disturbing’ [call]. They went to the house, they talked to him; he was somewhat irate — acting a little irrationally.”
A crisis intervention team was called to the house, along with a mental health specialist, Dean said. After speaking with Long, they left the house without taking him into custody or otherwise intervening.
Witnesses described the suspect as tall and dressed all in black, wearing a hood. A motive was not yet known, Dean said, and the FBI is assisting with the case.
When police entered the bar, they found a “horrific scene,” Dean said.
In addition to the dead, there is one other minor gunshot injury; an additional eight to 15 people were also injured inside the bar, Dean said, describing those cases as minor. Some of them, he said, left the premises on their own to go to area hospitals.
When the shooting started, panicked students and other patrons took shelter where they could, scrambling to hide from the gunman. Many fled when and how they could — through windows, back doors, and fire escapes — or hid in bathrooms or the attic.
“Unfortunately, our young people, or people at nightclubs, have learned that this may happen,” Sheriff Dean said. “And they think about that. Fortunately, it probably saved a lot of lives that they fled the scene so rapidly.”
One witness told NPR’s Nate Rott that he and others were able to escape after they grabbed a bar stool and threw it through a back window.
“I heard something go off — obviously, the gunshots,” witness Erica Sigman told NPR’s Kirk Siegler. “And I realized that it was not music very very quickly. And I heard everyone scream, ‘Get down!’ I heard people start saying, ‘Run.’ So I booked it to my car and with a group of people. … And hid behind my cars for a little bit. It stopped and then there was a second round that went off.”
Another witness told ABC 7 that he saw a suspect throw smoke bombs into the front of the restaurant and shoot a security guard.
“I was at the front door and I was talking to my stepdad. I just started hearing these big pops,” John Hedge told the station. “Pop, pop, pop. There was probably three or four, I hit the ground. I look up — the security guard is dead. Well, I don’t want to say he was dead, but he was shot. He was down. The gunman was throwing smoke grenades all over the place. I saw him point to the back of the cash register … and he just kept firing. I ran out the front door.”
When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, they were “still hearing shots” inside, said Capt. Garo Kuredjian of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
“The initial report indicated that a man had opened fire with a semi-automatic gun,” the Ventura County Star reports, adding that “Officers on the scene indicated that approximately 30 shots had been fired and that victims would be at multiple locations as they fled.”
Aerial footage from local news media showed a massive police response to the scene of the shooting, as multiple law enforcement agencies sent officers to help.
Wednesday nights at the Borderline Bar & Grill are billed as Country College Night; Borderline’s website advertises dance lessons at 9:30 and 10:30, and its Facebook page shows people line dancing.
The Borderline is popular with students from Pepperdine University, which says it has confirmed that “multiple” students were at the bar Wednesday night.
The university is holding classes as normal on Thursday, it says in an emergency bulletin. It adds that students can “adjust their class schedules today” if needed.
In addition to Pepperdine, other colleges including California State University, Channel Islands, and California Lutheran University, are located a short drive from the bar.
CSUCI President Erika D. Beck said in a statement that at least five students from the school had been at the Borderline on Wednesday. All of them, she added, had made it out safely.
Early Thursday, a family reunification center was set up down the highway from the Borderline, which the sheriff’s department says is staffed with chaplains and Red Cross workers.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department says Helus’ body will be taken from the hospital to the medical examiner’s office in a procession scheduled for 10 a.m. local time Thursday.
“He leaves behind a wife and son,” the agency said. “Our hearts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Dean said Helus had been on the phone with his wife when the call about the shooting came in, quickly signing off with “I love you, talk to you later.”
This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We’ll move quickly to correct the record and we’ll only point to the best information we have at the time.