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Thousand Oaks gunman was ex-Marine who may have suffered from PTSD, sheriff says

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 4 days ago James Queally, Richard Winton, Alene Tchekmedyian, Sean Greene, Sarah Parvini, Brittny Mejia, Andrea Castillo , Hannah Fry
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A gunman who killed 12 people at a Thousand Oaks bar was a former U.S. Marine who may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the Ventura County sheriff said.

Ian David Long, 28, lived in Newbury Park, not far from the club where he threw smoke bombs and rained bullets on a crowd of more than a hundred people Wednesday night.

Sheriff Geoff Dean said his department had had several interactions with Long, including a call to his home in April for a complaint of disturbing the peace. Deputies at the time said Long was irate and acting irrationally, Dean said. They called in mental health professionals to evaluate him, and they concluded he did not need to be taken into custody.

In the neighborhood where Long lived, residents said they were well aware of his problems.

Richard Berge, 77, said the former Marine had PTSD and was known to kick in the walls of the home. Long lived with his mother, Berge said.

“She’s a very sweet woman, but she had a lot of problems with the son,” Berge said. “I just know he tore the house up.”

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Long was dressed in black when he burst into the Borderline Bar & Grill, a country-music-themed venue popular with college students, around 11:20 p.m. He drove his mother’s car to the bar and did not say anything before opening fire, a law enforcement official said.

The shooter was armed with a Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun with an extended magazine that he purchased legally in Simi Valley, Dean said. A source said he also had a “smoke device.”

Authorities said sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer entered the bar first and were met with gunfire from Long. Helus was shot several times and died at an area hospital early Thursday morning, according to Dean.

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Helus, a 29-year Sheriff’s Department veteran who was planning to retire next year, died “a hero,” Dean said.

He is survived by a son and his wife, whom he called before entering the bar, Dean said.

“It doesn’t matter how safe your community is, it doesn’t matter how low your crime rate is — there are people who just don’t think properly everywhere, I don’t care where you are, and they commit horrific acts like this. There’s no way to process,” Dean said. “There’s no way to make sense out of the senseless.”

The first 911 calls reporting the shooting were received around 11:20 p.m., according to Dean. Helus and the CHP officer arrived and engaged the suspect by 11:26 p.m., he said.

A motive in the shooting was not immediately clear, but Dean said there was no evidence linking the attack to terrorism.

Eleven victims and the shooter were found dead inside the bar. It was not immediately clear whether the shooter took his own life.

“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said. “There’s blood everywhere.”

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Witnesses reported a terrifying scene as gunfire echoed through the club and those inside ran for cover, in some cases using chairs to break windows to escape. Several dived behind a pool table to shield themselves from bullets, while others hid in bathrooms and in the attic while frantically calling loved ones.

Several people who escaped the bar described a gunman clad in a black shirt, black hat and black glasses. He seemed to concentrate his fire on the front of the venue, where there were several employees, as soon as he entered, witnesses said.

“He just pulled out a gun and shot my friend that was working the front desk,” said Holden Harrah, 21.

Matthew Wennerstrom, a regular at Borderline, said he had been inside about an hour when he heard what he described as the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Wennerstrom said that as the shooter concentrated his fire on the front desk, he pulled as many people as he could to the floor and under a pool table.

He said he tried to quiet those around him and count the shots fired. Wennerstrom said that when the assailant seemed to be reloading, he enlisted others to help smash some of the bar’s windows with chairs, hoping to escape before the next volley of gunfire came.

“All I could think about was how helpless I was,” he said.

Teylor Whittler was at Borderline celebrating her 21st birthday on Wednesday night. She said she was dancing with friends when she heard what sounded like firecrackers. She quickly turned and followed the noise, only to find a man holding a gun near the entrance.

a close up of a map © Los Angeles Times

Erika Sigman, 19, said she began to race toward an exit as soon as screams erupted.

“I’m a Thousand Oaks resident,” she said. “This is a safe place. My parents let me go here. This is a trusted place. ... To know that this happened in my safe place is a very, very scary thing.”

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was sent to the scene, according to an agency spokeswoman. Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were dispatched.

An additional 18 victims who were injured while trying to escape but not shot were treated at area hospitals in the hours after the shooting, according to Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Stan Ziegler. The severity of their injuries was not immediately known.

Wednesday nights are college-themed nights open to students as young as 18, according to the bar’s website. Witnesses said the event is popular with Moorpark College students, and the Pepperdine student newspaper tweeted that students from its campus also were inside at the time of the shooting.

Classes at nearby Cal Lutheran University were canceled Thursday in the wake of the shooting.

Witnesses said the bar is a hub for country music fans and many of the patrons who were there Wednesday were regular attendees of the Stagecoach country music festival in Indio and, tragically, some were survivors of last year’s massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas that left 58 dead.


Large crowds formed in the area as friends and family members arrived at the scene seeking news about loved ones. Some who escaped the gunfire could be seen frantically talking on cellphones, desperate to get information about friends or family members who may have been trapped inside. Others announced the names of the people they were searching for as they gave live television interviews.

A hotline has been established for those seeking information about loved ones, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. The number is (805) 465-6650. A family reunification center also was established at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where Mayor Pro Tem Rob McCoy was seen around 3:30 a.m.

McCoy embraced one couple as they walked up. Inside, he said, the mood was “somber.”

He said officials do not yet have names of the victims.

“It’s going to be real heavy when that information comes in,” he said.

At nearby Los Robles Regional Medical Center, friends and family frantically searched for loved ones they hoped were not among the victims. Adam Housley, who until six weeks ago was a national correspondent for Fox News, arrived at the hospital around 3:30 a.m. searching for his niece. A guard didn’t let him through, saying the facility was on lockdown.

He said his niece, 18-year-old Pepperdine freshman Alaina Housley, had been at the bar with several friends. Her Apple Watch and iPhone still showed her location as being on the dance floor, he said.

“My gut is saying she’s inside the bar, dead,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m wrong.”

Housley said he comes from a small, tightknit family. But he’s been on the scene during mass shootings before as a reporter.

“You just don’t think that — same stupid quote — you just don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” he said.

a group of people sitting at night © Mike Baker / For the Times /

Some of those who were inside the bar recounted near-misses with the gunman. Nellie Wong, who was celebrating her 21st birthday on Wednesday night, said she dived to the floor when shots rang out. Wong said she believed that the gunman was dressed in a black hoodie, black shirt and black pants with a scarf obscuring his face and that he threw smoke bombs as he entered.

“Thank goodness he didn’t see me at all. I immediately stopped moving, stopped breathing,” said Wong, a student at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo.

Tim Dominguez has been going to the bar for 16 years. He said he normally wouldn’t have been there on a Wednesday because it’s college night, but his 26-year-old son wanted to go, so they went and played pool. Dominguez said they were preparing to leave when he heard a couple of shots and saw the bouncer fall to the ground. People were line-dancing as the shooting began, he said.

“Then he turned to the right and shot the cashier,” Dominguez said. “And then he just kept on shooting.”

The gunman continued shooting toward a crowd of about 40 people on the dance floor, he said.

“He shot quick. He was good at it,” Dominguez said, “like he knew what he was doing.”

Dominguez said that as he and his son ran from the bar, they yelled for people to get down. Though both of them are safe, Dominguez is wrestling with what he could have done differently.

“I feel guilty that I left,” he said. “That guilt that I could have done something more.”

Aubrey Ryan, 27, of Newbury Park said she was in the front of the restaurant with at least 15 friends when a man came in and started shooting at the ceiling.

She said the gunman shouted something but that she could not hear what he said. A friend threw her onto an outdoor balcony as the gunfire rang out so she could escape, she said.

This is the second time this year Thousand Oaks has seen violence in a crowded area. In March, a man shot and killed his wife before attempting to shoot himself at the Thousand Oaks Mall.

Around 1:30 a.m., dozens of people lined the sidewalk in Moorpark as police lights flashed through the darkness. Some sat on a concrete incline and watched from their perch.

Employees and people who had friends inside the bar huddled together, some hugging and asking one another if they had any updates from loved ones.

Tyler Odekirk, 21, started working at the bar as a security guard two months ago. He said he knew “everybody” at the bar Wednesday night because he was there so often, but he was struggling to reach friends.

“I can’t get anything to anybody that’s in there,” he said. “I had a friend call me in a panic thinking that I was there.”

Carl Edgar, a 24-year-old Tarzana resident, said he had about 20 friends inside the bar, where he is a regular. He said he was speaking with friends who were inside when the shooting began.

One texted him that she was hiding in a bathroom, fearing for her life. But Edgar said he was hopeful that his friends were safe.

Some of them, sadly, had been through this before.

“There are a few people we can’t get ahold of, but in these situations people usually turn off their phones to be safe, so I’m not going to get too worried. A lot of my friends survived Route 91,” he said. “If they survived that, they will survive this.”

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Andrea Castillo contributed to this report.

UPDATES (local time):

8:00 a.m.: This article was updated with information about the gunman.

6:05 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details and witness accounts.

5:15 a.m. This article was updated throughout with additional details and background.

4:30 a.m.: This story was updated with details about the shooter and additional witness accounts.

2:45 a.m.: This story was updated with additional details from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

2 a.m.: This story was updated with more details and fatalities.

1:25 a.m.: This story was updated to raise the number of wounded from 7 to 11.

1:05 a.m.: This story was updated with comments from the scene and the number of people shot.

This story was first published at midnight.

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