By Alex Dobuzinskis
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (Reuters) – Even as Thousand Oaks grieved over a mass shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people in a bar packed with college students, the South California city faced the threat of a spreading wildfire that forced thousands to flee their homes in nearby communities on Friday.
Evacuation centers were set up in Thousand Oaks, including a teen center where during Thursday frantic parents waited for news of their children after Wednesday night’s massacre at the Borderline Bar and Grill.
The fire broke out to the northeast of Thousand Oaks, a suburb 40 miles (64 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, on Thursday afternoon, forcing mandatory evacuations of 75,000 homes and shutting highways as the fire raged close to the city.
The FBI was seeking a motive for the country’s latest shooting rampage. Former U.S. Marine combat veteran Ian David Long, 28, entered the bar and opened fire, shooting 12 people dead before apparently killing himself, law enforcement officials said.
One of the dead, Telemachus Orfanos, had survived the mass shooting at a country music concert in October 2017 in Las Vegas that killed 58 people, the worst such incident in modern U.S. history, ABC News said, citing a friend.
It was time for politicians to act, Orfanos’ mother, Susan Schmidt-Orfanos, told ABC News.
“I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers,” she said.
Victims included an 18-year-old freshman student at Pepperdine University, a security guard at the Borderline, a graduate of California Lutheran University and a Marine Corps veteran.
California Lutheran University, which just the day before canceled classes, announced that although the school had not been ordered to evacuate because of the fire, it would close Friday and was “monitoring the situation closely.”
Pepperdine University, which had held a prayer service in Malibu following the shooting, announced Friday that it was closing its Malibu and Calabasas campuses due to wildfires.
The fire near Thousand Oaks was one of three fast-moving wildfires burning in California on Friday morning that had caused tens of thousands to flee. Fierce winds were expected to keep fanning the flames during the day.
The Thousand Oaks massacre took place less than two weeks after a man shot dead 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said on Thursday evening it was too early to speculate on the shooter’s motives but he appeared to have acted alone.
“We will be sure to paint a picture of the state of mind of the subject and do our best to identify a motivation,” Delacourt said, adding the FBI would investigate any possible “radicalization” or links to militant groups.
Long, who served a tour in Afghanistan as a machine gunner, fired seemingly at random inside the Western-themed bar with a .45 caliber Glock handgun equipped with a high-capacity magazine, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
Officers had gone to Long’s home in Newbury Park, about 4 miles (6 km) from the bar, in April to answer a disturbance call and found him agitated, Dean told reporters. Mental health specialists talked with Long and determined that no further action was necessary, the sheriff said.
“He was raving hell in the house, you know, kicking holes in the walls and stuff and one of the neighbors was concerned and called the police,” Richard Berge, who lived one block away from the home, told Reuters.
Berge, who looked after Long’s mother’s dogs, said she told him following that incident she worried her son might take his own life but did not fear he would hurt her.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said 21 people had been treated for injuries at area hospitals and released.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran, was killed during the shooting. He and a California Highway Patrol officer were the first to arrive to confront the gunman.
Thousand Oaks, a leafy, sprawling suburb of 127,000 people, was named the third safest city in the United States for 2018 by the Niche research company.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Carey; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)