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Sheriff's sergeant told wife, 'I love you,' then rushed into Thousand Oaks shooting scene before he fell

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 11/8/2018 Brittny Mejia, Sean Greene, Rong-Gong Lin II

Right before Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Helus rushed into the Borderline Bar & Grill on Wednesday night to respond to reports of a mass shooting, he was on the phone with his wife.

"He said, 'Hon, I got to go, I love you. I gotta go on a call,'" Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer were the first two law enforcement officers to reach the scene, shortly after 11:20 p.m. About four minutes after arriving, after hearing shots fired inside, they went through the front door.

"They immediately exchanged gunfire with the suspect. And that's when Sgt. Helus was shot several times," Dean said.

The highway patrol officer stepped back to secure the perimeter until additional units arrived, then pulled Helus out of the line of fire, Dean said. Helus died later at Los Robles Regional Medical Center.

"They knew they had to take action and they went in and did what they had to do," the sheriff said.

Roughly 15 minutes later, a second group of law enforcement personnel mustered and entered the bar. By then, the shooting had stopped. The suspect was found dead in an office next to the bar's entrance from what is believed to be a self-inflicted wound. Eleven more people were found shot dead. Several others were wounded.

An emotional Dean described Helus as a friend and colleague.

"He knew the risks, but he knew, like we all do, why we serve," Dean said. "Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff's sergeant. He was totally committed. He gave his all. And tonight ... he died a hero. He went in to save lives, to save other people."

Helus, 54, a Moorpark resident, was a 29-year veteran of the department and was planning to retire in the next year or so.

"He was an unbelievable man," Sheriff's Capt. Garo Kuredjian said. "He was a lifetime learner, a trainer, a mentor, a leader. He was a cop's cop. His void is going to be felt throughout our agency."

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Kuredjian said a young man came up to him after the shooting to thank the deputies. "There's no doubt in my mind that your sergeant's actions saved others from being victims," the man told him. "That's a small piece of solace for the family knowing their father, their husband, ran into danger and saved lives."

Dean said the sheriff's department trains its deputies to enter buildings where there's an active shooter, a policy that changed after the Columbine school shooting in 1999 in Colorado. Before, the policy was to wait for a SWAT team to arrive.

"Our officers know, when you get to a scene, and there's two of you, or even just one of you, and there's shooting going on, you go in," the sheriff said.

Speaking of Helus and the CHP officer, Dean said there was "no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect," adding there were probably 150 to 200 people inside the bar.

Helus served as an instructor when Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Dyer was in the academy.

"Ron Helus is the guy you want protecting your neighborhood at 2 in the morning," said Dyer, who went on to work alongside Helus.

"He is in your corner all time. He makes it amazing to come to work. "

Sheriff's Sgt. Eric Buschow said he came on the job around the same time as Helus. "He was just a great guy. Just an instinctive cop," Buschow said. "He has always had a knack for investigations."

Helus worked narcotics and was on the SWAT team for many years.

"He's a tactician so I have no doubt he employed the best tactics possible," he said. "Unfortunately in a chaotic situation like that, you've just got to go in. And he did."

"To describe it as heroic," he trailed off for about a minute, as he stood about 300 feet from the bar. "What else do you call it?"

"It's just not right," he said about the shooting.

In addition to his wife, Helus is survived by his son.

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