Investigators say the gunman walked into the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks late Wednesday and started throwing smoke bombs and shooting into the crowd of mostly college-age patrons.
A Ventura County sheriff’s deputy, who was among the first on the scene, was shot multiple times and died at the hospital, officials said.
The gunman also died at the bar, but it wasn’t clear how, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
“It was a horrific incident,” Dean said. “It’s part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere, and I think it’s impossible to put any logic or sense to the senselessness. This community in my 41 years had never experienced anything like this.”
Witnesses said about 30 shots were fired in the bar and the shooter wore a black trench coat and glasses. It was “college night” at the dance bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, which has a large dance floor and regularly hosts large events.
Patrons described a chaotic scene of panic as they tried to escape the building or hide from the shooter. Others used chairs to break windows to escape.
“All of the sudden, you just hear, bang bang, bang,” one witness said. “The music was still going. And then it just started going bang, bang, bang … and everybody ducked down and started running.”
“The gunman was throwing smoke grenades all over the place,” another witness told KABC-TV. “I saw him point to the back of the cash register … and he just kept firing. I ran out the front door. There was probably three or four [shots].”
Bar-goer Josh Coaly wasn’t there during the shooting but showed up after to check on his friends. He said one of them had also been present at the country music festival in Las Vegas a year ago, when a gunman killed 58 people.
“I just came to see if there’s anything I can do,” Coaly said.
Another witness said the gunman shot people at close range.
The sheriff’s deputy who died was identified as Sgt. Ron Helus, a veteran of the sheriff’s office and California Highway Patrol.
Pepperdine University tweeted that several students from the private Christian university were at the bar.
“At this time, the University is working to identify and provide support to those students. Pepperdine officials are working with authorities and will provide updates as more information is available. The university offers its deepest condolences and is praying for everyone involved,” Pepperdine tweeted.
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