THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A tall, hooded gunman dressed in black and covering his face with a bandana opened fire late Wednesday during “college night” at a crowded country dance bar in Southern California, killing 12 people, including a sheriff’s sergeant.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean identified the gunman as David Ian Long, 28, a Marine veteran, who was described as “acting a little irrationally” when police were called to his home earlier this year to investigate a disturbance.
He was armed with a Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun, with an extended magazine, that he had purchased legally. The weapon had an extended magazine.
After spraying bullets for almost three minutes, the gunman then went into an office near the front of the bar where he was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Authorities said the gunfire broke out at the Borderline Bar & Grill, a country-western dance bar in Thousand Oaks, which is about 40 miles west of Los Angeles. Hundreds of people fled in terror, including some who used bar stools to break windows and escape.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” said Dean, who choked up at one point while speaking to reporters in the bar’s parking lot. “There’s blood everywhere.”
“It appears he walked up to the scene, shot the security guard who was standing outside, then stepped inside,” Dean said. “It appears that he turned to the right and shot several of the other security guards and employees, and began opening fire inside the nightclub.”
Pepperdine University said on Twitter that “multiple” students from the college were at the scene during the attack.
Eighteen people transported themselves to local hospitals, and two were taken by ambulance, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who was shot after he entered the building, died at a hospital early Thursday.
Helus and a passing highway patrolman were responding to several 911 calls when they arrived at the bar around 11:20 p.m., the sheriff said. They heard gunfire and went inside.
Helus was immediately hit with multiple gunshots, Dean said. The highway patrolman cleared the perimeter and pulled Helus out and waited as a SWAT team and scores more officers arrived.
The sheriff said there were “multiple other victims” with different levels of injury. He said it was not known whether there was a terrorism link. He called the shooting a “tragic, tragic situation.”
The bar, which includes a large dance hall with a stage and a pool room along with several smaller areas for eating and drinking, is a popular hangout for students from nearby California Lutheran University, particularly on College Night.
It’s also close to several other universities including California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, Pepperdine University in Malibu and Moorpark College in Moorpark.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since 17 classmates and teachers were gunned down at a Parkland, Florida, school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Matt Wennerstrom, 20, said the attacker, armed with a handgun, first opened fire on employees working the front desk.
“I grabbed as many people as I could and pulled them down underneath the pool table we were close to until he ran out of bullets for that magazine and had to reload,” he said.
Wennerstrom, a regular customer at the bar, said he and other patrons used bar stools to break open a window to help people escape. “We were shuttling as many people out as we could,” he said.
He described the gunman as around 6-feet-2, dressed in black.
President Donald Trump tweeted early Thursday that he had been briefed on “the terrible shooting in California. Law Enforcement and First Responders, together with the FBI, are on scene.”
A witness, John Hedge, said he saw the suspect tossing smoke bombs into the front of the restaurant, KABC-TV reports.
“The gunman was throwing smoke grenades all over the place. I saw him point to the back of the cash register … and he just kept firing. I ran out the front door,” he said.
Taylor Von Molt, 21, who was line dancing in the bar when the shooting broke out, told CNN that the burly gunman was wearing sunglasses and his face was partially covered by a bandana.
She said he first heard what sounded like a balloon popping until she realized it was gun shots. Von Molt said she fell down rushing toward the exits and was slightly injured attempting to get up.
The extent of the victims’ injuries was not immediately clear. Hundreds of people were inside the bar when the shooting occurred, the Los Angeles Times reported. Law enforcement and emergency crews flooded the scene and police urged the public to avoid the area.
Officers at the scene said the gunman might have used smoke bombs in the incident, but authorities later said they could not confirm that.
Officers indicated that about 30 shots had been fired and that victims fled from the bar into the surrounding neighborhood. Shots were still being fired when officers arrived on the scene.
The Borderline Bar & Grill describes itself on its website as the county’s “Largest Country Dance Hall & Live Music Venue” with 2,500 square feet of open dance floor. It was reportedly college night at the venue when the shooting occurred.
Contributing: Ventura County Star staff; Jane Onyanga-Omara, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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