A hooded gunman wearing all black opened fire at a country dance bar holding a weekly “college night” in Southern California, using a handgun and a smoke device to kill 12 people and sending hundreds fleeing, authorities said Thursday.
Authorities have identified the suspect as 28-year-old Ian David Long.
Terrified revelers used barstools to break second-floor windows and jump to safety to escape the dance bar, where the gunman was later found dead. Those killed in the shooting Wednesday night also included 11 people inside the bar and a sheriff’s sergeant who was the first officer inside the door, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean told a news conference in the parking lot of the Borderline Bar & Grill. “There’s blood everywhere.”
Authorities said hundreds of people were inside the bar when the gunfire rang out. In an interview, Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow came close to tears and said he knows the wounded deputy.
“It’s been a rough night for all of us,” he said.
During a press briefing, Dean identified the sergeant as Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the department who considered retiring within the next year. At points he choked up, but said that Helus died a hero.
“Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant. 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,” he said.
Officials said Long deployed a smoke device and used a .45-caliber handgun when he opened fire. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since 17 classmates and teachers were gunned down at a Parkland, Florida school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Dean also said in his 41 years in law enforcement, he’d never experienced a mass shooting.
“I never thought I would see the things around the country that would happen, but I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what community you’re in, it doesn’t matter how safe your community is, it can happen anywhere,” he said.
Witness John Hedge, of Moorpark, said he saw a suspect throwing smoke bombs into the front of the restaurant. He also said he saw a security guard get shot.
“I was at the front door and I was talking to my stepdad. I just started hearing these big pops. 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,” he said.
Hodge added that there may have been about 12 shots by the time he got out of the door.
He said the gunman had a beard, wore a hat, had a black jacket and may have had glasses.
“I thought it was a joke when the shots started firing. I know people there. I hope everybody’s OK. I don’t know how I didn’t get shot,” the man said.
Tim, Hodge’s stepfather, who was in tears, said he was next to the entrance about to leave after playing pool when smoke came into the room.
“He fired the first shot. I knew it was live. 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.
“Then he started moving to the right. He wasn’t looking at us. Then he went into the office, where all the cash and stuff is. He didn’t say anything at all. He just started shooting,” he said.
Footage from AIR7 HD captured paramedics performing CPR on a person who appeared unresponsive.
Multiple law enforcement agencies, including Simi Valley and Oxnard police, arrived to help sheriff’s deputies and SWAT officers.
The website for Borderline showed that Wednesday nights are College Country Nights that last from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. Colleges near the club are California Lutheran University and California State University, Channel Islands, as well as Moorpark, Ventura and Oxnard College.
Students from Pepperdine University in Malibu also often attend College Country Nights, and there may have been some at the bar Wednesday night. It was unclear how many, according to the university.
In Harris County, Sheriff Ed Gonzales took to Twitter to share his condolences for those affected, especially the Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy.