By Alex Dobuzinskis
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (Reuters) – An ex-Marine opened fire in a crowded Southern California bar popular with college students, killing 12 people including a sheriff’s deputy, police said on Thursday, in the latest U.S. mass shooting that stunned a community with a reputation for safety.
The gunman, identified by authorities as Ian David Long, 28, was found dead in the office of the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, a suburb about 40 miles (64 km) northwest of Los Angeles, apparently having shot himself.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told a news conference on Thursday morning that Long had apparently fired at random with a .45-caliber Glock handgun with an extra-capacity magazine inside the bar at about 11:30 p.m. PST on Wednesday (0730 GMT Thursday).
There was no known motive, he said.
“Obviously he had something going on in his head that would cause him to do something like this,” Dean said. “Obviously he had some sort of issues.”
Long was in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2013, reaching the rank of corporal, and served as a machine gunner who was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months. Dean said it was possible that Long had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dean told reporters that officers had gone to Long’s home in nearby Newbury Park, about 4 miles (6 km) from the bar, in April to answer a disturbance call and found him to be agitated. Mental health specialists talked with Long and determined that no further action was necessary.
Dean said authorities were waiting for a search warrant for Long’s home.
The bar shooting was the latest mass killing in the United States and was sure to revive the debate on gun control. Less than two weeks ago 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed by a man shouting “All Jews must die.”
The Borderline is popular with university students and on Wednesday night had hosted College Country Night. California Lutheran University, located about 5 miles from the bar, canceled classes on Thursday while Pepperdine University, about 20 miles away, planned a prayer service.
Bar patron Cole Knapp, 19, told Reuters he saw the gunman walk in and stop at the counter as if to pay a cover charge. Then Knapp heard gunfire and saw a young woman at the counter shot repeatedly.
“It took a couple of seconds for people to realize what was going on and once that happened it was just utter chaos,” he said.
Knapp said he first helped people hide behind a pool table and then fled to the bar’s outdoor smoking patio, where people were unaware of the shooting. He told them to run and, once outside, Knapp said he and a friend helped carry a gunshot victim to an ambulance.
“I’m just reeling, riding on adrenaline right now,” he said. “It’s just kind of unbelievable that somebody would want to come to a place I care about and hurt people that I care about.”
Thousand Oaks, with a population of about 127,000, is a leafy, sprawling suburb named the third safest city in the United States for 2018 by Niche, a company that researches cities’ schools, income, real estate, crime and other livability factors.
“I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what community you’re in,” Dean told reporters when asked if he was surprised this happened in Thousand Oaks. “It doesn’t matter how safe your community is. It can happen anywhere.”
The names of the victims were not immediately made public and people gathered at a teen center in Thousand Oaks waiting to learn the fate of loved ones. One man, Jason Coffman, wept and struggled for words as he told reporters that his son, Cody, 22, was among the dead.
“Only him and I know how I love, how much I miss him,” he said. “Oh, son, I love you so much.”
Actress Tamera Mowry-Housley, one of the stars of the 1990s sitcom “Sister, Sister,” confirmed in a statement to ABC News that her niece, Alaina, was killed at the bar.
PROCESSION FOR SLAIN LAWMAN
Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran with a wife and son, was shot in the bar and died at a hospital.
Helus’ colleague, Sergeant Julie Novak, told CNN that he was talking to his wife on the phone when the Borderline call came in. He reached the bar in two minutes.
A procession of at least 50 police cars and other vehicles escorted the hearse carrying his body from the hospital. Dozens of people watched from the sidewalk and firefighters stood at attention as it passed.
Among those outside the hospital was Ellen Rivera, who said she had survived the October 2017 slaughter of 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
She said the support of the Thousand Oaks community had helped her get through the trauma of that incident and that it hurt to see her friends suffering now.
Less than 12 hours after the shooting, a relief fund for the victims’ families had been established at http://www.vccf.org
Thousand Oaks Mayor Andy Fox urged people to give blood to help the wounded and at midday the line of donors stretched around the block.
Dean said he had been told that 150 to 200 people were in the Borderline at the time. “It could have been much, much worse.”
Asked what the scene inside the bar was like, Dean said, “Like … hell.” Earlier he had described it as “a horrific scene in there. There is blood everywhere and the suspect is part of that.”
Dean estimated 10 to 15 people, including one with a gunshot wound, had gone to hospitals.
President Donald Trump, who has resisted a surge in calls for tougher gun control measures since 17 students and staff were shot dead at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in February, ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at public buildings and grounds.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Bernie Woodall in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta, Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Gina Cherelus and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Bill Trott; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Grant McCool)