Witness says the shooter ‘had a plan to kill a lot of people’ at Borderline Bar and Grill.
The first person shot by the tall man in the black hood was working security outside the nightclub’s front door, boosting the odds that what he planned next would not be interrupted.
After that, around 11 p.m. Wednesday, witnesses say Ian David Long seemed to act randomly. The 28-year-old Marine veteran simply walked through the Borderline Bar & Grill and seemed to point his Glock.45 and shoot whatever and whoever caught his eye.
When the carnage was over, 12 victims and the shooter were dead. The victims included a Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Ron Helus, who ran into the club when he received a radio call about shots. At least a dozen others were injured.
MORE: See full coverage of the Thousand Oaks mass shooting
Police and sheriff’s deputies from a half-dozen nearby agencies entered the club at about 11:40 p.m., finding bodies of victims, and Long, who authorities said took his own life. They also found survivors huddled in restrooms and the club’s attic, still avoiding the shooter.
“Like Hell,” was how Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean answered when asked how the scene looked when authorities entered.
Many of the dead were young adults. The country-themed Borderline promoted Wednesday as “College Night,” and many of the estimated 150 to 200 people inside as the mass shooting unfolded are students at nearby colleges, including Cal Lutheran, Pepperdine, Moorpark and Cal State Channel Islands. At least some also are survivors of another mass shooting – the 2017 massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival music show in Las Vegas, which took 58 lives.
One of those at the club, possibly the man shot first by Long, was Justin Meek, 22, a recent graduate of Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
The school confirmed Meek’s death Thursday. And at least some social media reports said he was working as the club’s bouncer on Wednesday night, adding that he saved “multiple lives, trying to get people out… after being shot first at the door.”
Though Ventura County Sheriff Dean said it was unclear if Long had guns other than the Glock with him during the rampage, he confirmed that Long used at least one other weapon during the attack – a smoke bomb.
Survivors said the smoke and noise added to the chaos, and suggested that was Long’s intent.
“At one point, when I was on the ground, I turned around and saw a smoke bomb … a lot of sparks and just smoke,” said Sarah DeSon, a student at Cal Lutheran who was in the club when the shooting started.
“I said, ‘OK, someone had a plan to kill a lot of people.’”
Moments later, DeSon said she got out of the club and started running. At one point she fell down and, while on the ground, her panic rose.
“I thought, ‘What if he’s behind you? If he is, you’re dead.’”
As DeSon and others sneaked out through the club’s doors, others escaped Long by using barstools to break windows crawl through the openings.
Witnesses suggested some victims, such as Meek and Sgt. Helus, also tried to help other victims.
A woman outside the club said she saw survivors huddled behind bushes and cars, including some who she described as “half-naked” because they’d used their clothing to slow the bleeding of others who had been shot.
Others said some of the five off-duty officers who were in the club at the time of the incident also worked to help victims and protect others from being shot. One parent of a survivor said an officer stood between Long and some patrons. It’s unclear if the officer survived.
The massacre – the worst in the United States in only the past 12 days – provoked sympathy and response from around the country.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who on Tuesday was elected to be the state’s next governor, ordered all flags at half-staff in California. And President Donald Trump used Twitter to thank law enforcement specifically, writing “Great bravery shown by police… God bless all of the victims and families of the victims…. “
Trump was referencing Helus and an as-yet unidentified officer with the California Highway Patrol, who were the first two to arrive at the scene following numerous 911 calls.
Sheriff Dean said Helus was talking to his wife over the phone, as he did several times a shift, when he learned of the 911 calls from the club, telling her “I gotta go, I love you.”
When they got to the club, Helus and the CHP officer heard gunshots and both entered. Once inside, Dean said the pair “immediately exchanged gunfire” with the shooter. When Helus was struck multiple times, the CHP officer pulled him out to try to save his life. Helus later was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Dean – who will leave his elected position as Ventura County Sheriff on Friday – said Helus, 54, was a 29-year veteran who planned to retire next year. He is survived by his wife and adult son.
It’s unclear if Long had a coherent motive, but Dean said he didn’t think the choice to shoot at the Borderline was completely random.
In April, Dean said, his officers were called to Long’s home, in Newbury Park, because Long was acting “somewhat irate, a little irrationally.” But the deputies and a mental health crew also called to the scene didn’t feel at the time that Long was qualified to be taken in on an involuntary hold.
Neighbors said Long, who lived in Orange County before moving to Newbury Park, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder .
The Marine Corps said Thursday that Long had been deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and served as a machine gunner. At the time that Long served, the Marine Corps was sustaining heavy casualties in the region. Long had two military service awards, including one that military officials say is given only for “outstanding heroism in action.”
Many who survived Long’s rampage described it as a battle, of sorts.
DeSon, who saw the smoke bomb, said she was “grateful, so grateful,” to have survived. She added that her plan was to go home and, once there, “I’m giving my family a lot of hugs.

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