A gunman open fired on a crowd at a country dance bar in Southern California, killing 13 people including the gunman and the sheriff’s sergeant and sent hundreds fleeing in terror including some who used barstools to break windows and escape, authorities said Thursday.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said at a news conference early Thursday in the parking lot of the Borderline Bar & Grill. “There’s blood everywhere.”
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.
Trump said Thursday on Twitter that he has been “fully briefed on the terrible shooting.” He praised law enforcement, saying “Great bravery shown by police” and said “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.”
A law enforcement official told the Associated Press that authorities identified the gunman and the handgun he used. And said that the gunman was 29 years old and deployed a smoke device and used a .45-caliber handgun. He was described as tall and wearing an all black hoodie over his head having most of his face covered. He fired at the person working the door, then appeared to open fire at random at the people inside, they said.
Many more people had more minor injuries, including some that came from the attempt to flee, Dean said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a passing highway patrolman were responding to several 911 calls when they arrived at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks at about 11:20 p.m., the sheriff said. They heard gunfire and went inside.
Helus was immediately hit with multiple gunshots, Dean said. The highway patrolman cleared the perimeter and pulled Helus out, and then waited as a SWAT team and scores more officers arrived. Helus died early Thursday at a hospital.
By the time they entered the bar again with the SWAT team the gunfire had stopped, and they found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman. They aren’t clear on how the shooter died and have not been able to identify him or understand his motive.
The bar hosts “college night” every Wednesday and mostly cause of their large dance hall with a stage and a pool room along with several smaller areas for eating and drinking, many students hung out the night the shooting took place. The bar is also a popular hangout for students from nearby universities
When the gunman entered, people screamed and fled to all corners of the bar, while a few people threw barstools through the windows and helped dozens to escape, witnesses said.
Video from the scene accessed by The Associated Press is punctuated by loud sounds of several rounds of gunfire. A terrified witness runs out. Police cars are seen arriving and an armed officer takes up position outside the bar. Three men rush out carrying a bloodied fourth individual. They try to stem the bleeding of what appears to be a gunshot wound.
Then he said he saw the shooter and said “I tried to get as many people to cover as I could,” Knapp said. “There was an exit right next to me, so I went through that. That exit leads to a patio where people smoke. People out there didn’t really know what was going on. There’s a fence right there so I said, ‘Everyone get over the fence as quickly as you can, and I followed them over.”
He said a highway patrol officer was nearby who just happened to be pulling someone over.
“I screamed to him, ‘There’s a shooter in there!’ He was kind of in disbelief, then saw that I was serious.”
Knapp said he has friends who haven’t been accounted for.
Tayler Whitler, 19, said she was on the dance floor with her friends nearby when she saw the gunman shooting and heard screams to “get down.”
“It was really, really really shocking,” Whitler told KABC-TV as she stood with her father in the Borderline parking lot. “It looked like he knew what he was doing.”
Sarah Rose DeSon told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she saw the shooter draw his gun.
“I dropped to the floor,” she said. “A friend yelled ‘Everybody down!’ We were hiding behind tables trying to keep ourselves covered.”
Shootings of any kind are very rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles west of Los Angeles, just across the county line.
The killed sheriff’s deputy, Helus, was a 29-year veteran of the force with a wife and son and planned to retire in the coming year, said the sheriff, who choked back tears several times as he talked about the sergeant who was also his longtime friend.
“Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant who was totally committed,” Dean said, “and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives.”