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'It’s never going to be normal': California city in shock after gunman kills 12

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Charles Davis in Thousand Oaks, California, and Adam Gabbatt in New York
a woman standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Mourners embrace outside of the Thousand Oaks Teen Center where relatives and friends gathered in the aftermath of the Wednesday night mass shooting. © AP Mourners embrace outside of the Thousand Oaks Teen Center where relatives and friends gathered in the aftermath of the Wednesday night mass shooting.

Residents stood in silent shock and grief outside a bar on Thursday where a former US marine had burst in the night before and shot dead 12 people, including a police officer. But some made their feelings known by carrying signs.

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“Gun control now”, read one carried by Grace Fisher, who on Thursday morning had come from her nearby home to the scene of the mass shooting to pay her respects. Hours earlier, late on Wednesday night, college country and western line-dancing night was taking place at the local Borderline Bar and Grill when, according to law enforcement, Ian Long, 28, entered and wrought tragedy with a handgun.

Fisher, who was carrying her baby with her, came after hearing about the tragedy from a neighbor.

“I just couldn’t sit at home and be sad,” she said. “I had to get out and come hold my sign and say we demand more.”

Related: What we know about the California shooting and gunman

Other locals in this quiet Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks stood as an impromptu and subdued citizens’ honor guard as the body of slain Ventura county sheriff’s deputy Ron Helus was taken from the hospital, where he had died just hours after being shot as he rushed the gunman. His remains were being transported to the medical examiner’s office. One man held up a sign saying, simply, “Hero Helus”.

a couple of people that are talking to each other: People attend the procession for the Ventura county sheriff Sgt Ron Helus, who was shot and killed in a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Photograph: Ringo Chiu/Reuters © Reuters People attend the procession for the Ventura county sheriff Sgt Ron Helus, who was shot and killed in a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Photograph: Ringo Chiu/Reuters

The subdued events of Thursday unfolded in the stunned community as details of some of the victims began to emerge. Cody Coffman, a 22-year-old who hoped to join the army, was among the dead. His father said he was “heartbroken” on Thursday morning. Justin Meek, 23, a recent graduate from nearby California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks was also killed. The university said Meek had “heroically saved lives in the incident”.

The streets became packed full of local residents as Helus was taken from the Los Robles hospital. They had brought American flags to wave, in a poignant gesture on a grim day. No one had organized the gathering, it was a spontaneous coming together by locals upset and scared at what had taken place in their midst.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” said Hannah, a local resident who preferred not to make her full name public. She was also outraged.

“These kind of shootings have been happening way too often,” she said. But she was also comforted by the turnout of people to pay tribute.

“It’s the biggest thing I can remember,” she said. “It’s why I love living here and being from here. Everyone shows up for each other.”

Back outside the Borderline bar, where many of the patrons on Wednesday night had attended the local California Lutheran University, Pepperdine University, closer to Los Angeles, and other regional colleges, red-eyed students in university sweatshirts hugged each other and wept.

California Lutheran, just a 10-minute drive north of the bar, planned to hold a vigil for the dead on Thursday afternoon.

Classes were cancelled at the university, a private liberal arts college, as students and staff came to terms with the shooting in this quiet suburb 40 miles north-west of Los Angeles.

“Something like this is just really unheard of,” said Richard Hurst, an adjunct professor in geology at CLU. Hurst described a safe community in which crime was rare.

He said a number of students were consoling each other in the campus chapel.

“There’s a lot of students literally just buckled over crying,” he said.

a man sitting in a park: Mourners react outside a reception center for families of victims of a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Reuters © Reuters Mourners react outside a reception center for families of victims of a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Reuters

Cody Coffman was among those killed when Long opened fire inside the bar. Cody’s father, Jason Coffman, described the 22-year-old as having “love for everybody”.

“There was so many people that he touched and now are going to be just as heartbroken as I am,” Coffman told journalists.

“This is a heart that I’ll never get back.”

Cody had been pronounced dead on the scene, his father said. Cody had just turned 22 and was hoping to join the military, to serve in the army.

“He was on his way to fulfilling his dream of serving the country,” Coffman said.

Earlier in the day Coffman had described his frantic efforts to trace his son. Coffman knew Cody was at the Borderline bar, and through a tracker on his phone could see that Cody’s phone remained there hours after the shooting.

Related: Thousand Oaks shooting: gunman kills 12 at California western bar

Coffman said his last words to Cody before he left for Borderline were: “Son, I love you.”

“I cannot believe that it’s happened to my family,” Coffman said.

“My life has changed now forever.”

Asked how he felt about the gunman Coffman declined to comment. “I feel sorry for his parents,” he said.

CLU said its community was “filled with sorrow” over the shooting.

“Sadly, we have learned from the family that a recent graduate, Justin Meek, 23, is one of the precious lives cut short in this tragedy. Meek heroically saved lives in the incident,” the university said in a statement.

“Cal Lutheran wraps its arms around the Meek family and other families, and around every member of this community of caring.”

Outside the bar, Grace Fisher continued: “You’re getting your kids ready for school every day and you worry about sending them – and that’s not okay. I’m tired of it. It’s never going to be normal for us to do everyday, normal things and fear for our lives.”

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