Sacramento: Authorities in Thousand Oaks, California, northwest of Los Angeles, reported 13 fatalities at a bar and dance hall late on Wednesday after multiple shots were fired by a man inside.
Ron Helus, a sheriff’s sergeant, was among those killed. The gunman, who opened fire without warning, was found dead inside the Borderline Bar and Grill, authorities said. The venue was filled with young people for ‘College Country Night.”
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said he had no reason to believe that there was a link to terrorism, “but we certainly will look at that option.” The only weapon recovered by early Thursday was a handgun, he said.
“It’s a horrific incident,” Dean told reporters. “It’s 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.”
The deputy, who died at the hospital about an hour after sustaining his injury, was a 29-year veteran of the force and was expecting to retire soon. He was survived by a wife and a son. “He died a hero,” Dean said, “because he went into save lives.”
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.
Reports of a shooter came in about 11:20pm Pacific time on Wednesday, and deputies arrived on the scene at 11:22pm, authorities said.
Helus, the sheriff’s sergeant entered the venue with a highway patrol officer several minutes later, at which point Helus was struck “multiple times,” Dean said. The highway patrol officer stepped back and secured the perimeter.
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.’”
The Borderline Bar describes itself as the county’s largest country dance hall and live music venue. With a dance floor covering about 2,500 square feet, it is open until 2am five days a week.
Authorities said more than 100 were inside at the time of the shooting. Scores of colleges lie within a 20 mile radius of the bar, including Pepperdine University, California Lutheran University and Moorpark College.
Claire Gietzen told an ABC affiliate that she ran behind the bar when gunshots broke out, but then joined a man who pulled down a ladder leading into the attic.
“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 OK, and then it would start up again.”
Special weapons and tactics teams arrived on the scene a short time later, along with the FBI. Video from the scene showed bar-goers rushing injured people to medical response vehicles.
When the authorities re-entered 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.”
He said that authorities have not yet identified the suspect.
Matt Wennerstrom of Newbury Park, California, 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,” the eyewitness said.
During the pause, Wennerstrom, 20, said he and others threw barstools through a window and helped people escape. He told ABC he was able to push “30 or 35 people through that window.”
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 gotta hurry, you gotta get in there,” she urged him.
The shooting unfolded just over a year after 58 people were killed at a country music festival in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.