Twelve people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a crowded bar in southern California, police said on Thursday morning. A sheriff’s deputy is among the dead, the Ventura county Sheriff’s department said, adding that the gunman was found dead inside the bar.
Hundreds of people were at the Borderline Bar and Grill, in Thousand Oaks near Los Angeles, on Wednesday night when the shooter entered and opened fire. Witnesses reported using barstools to break windows in a desperate attempt to escape, and Ventura county sheriff Geoff Dean described a traumatic scene, Guardian reported.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said at a news conference in the parking lot of the Borderline Bar & Grill. “There’s blood everywhere.” Dean said officers had not yet determined whether the gunman took his own life.
President Donald Trump tweeted that he had been “fully briefed” on the shooting, and praised the “great bravery shown by police.” The shooter entered the country and western bar, which was holding a “College Country Night,” dressed in all black with his face partly covered, witnesses told TV crews at the scene.
Dean said sheriffs responded to 911 calls at about 11:20 pm. Sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the force, entered the bar with a highway patrolman after hearing gunshots. Dean said Helus was shot several times before being pulled out of the bar by the highway patrolman, who has not been named, and taken to a nearby hospital.
Helus, who had planned to retire in the next year, died early Thursday morning, Dean said. “It saddens us all and tears at our emotions. He died a hero. He went in to save lives, to save other people,” Dean said.
Witnesses described a scene of sheer panic inside the packed nightclub. They described an opening volley of shots and then a pause, during which club goers scrambled to escape, throwing bar stools through windows and running through the kitchen to get out.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has been briefed on the shooting in California and will receive updates as authorities learn more, according to a Justice Department official, CNN adds. Jeff Sessions was fired from his job as attorney general in the aftermath of the US midterm elections on Wednesday. Whitaker was Sessions’ chief of staff.
Meanwhile, Representative Jim Himes, whose home state of Connecticut endured the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, blasted inaction on gun violence after hearing about the mass shooting in California on Wednesday night.
“I’m embarrassed to say … my first thought was, ‘here we go again, it’s this week’s mass shooting’, and that’s a really hard way to think about this. I contrast where we are today with how we all felt about Sandy Hook,” he told CNN.
“This is a weekly thing (and) even though it’s become a weekly thing, nobody does anything, especially the Congress where I work. 35,000 Americans dead a year as a result of gun violence and Congress can’t even find its way to studying the problem,” he lamented.