THOUSAND OAKS — Using a smoke bomb and a handgun, a hooded gunman dressed all in black opened fire during “college night” at a country music bar in Southern California, killing 12 people and sending hundreds fleeing in terror, authorities said Thursday. The gunman was later found dead.
Authorities said the motive for the attack Wednesday night was under investigation.
Patrons screamed in fear, shouted “Get down!” and used barstools to smash second-floor windows and jump to safety as gunfire erupted at the Borderline Bar & Grill, a hangout popular with students from nearby California Lutheran University. The dead included 11 people inside the bar and a sheriff’s sergeant who was the first officer inside the door, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said in the parking lot. “There’s blood everywhere.”
The killer — a 29-year-old man whose name was not immediately released — deployed a smoke device and used a .45-caliber handgun, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since 17 students and teachers were killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. That, in turn, closely followed the series of pipe bombs mailed to critics of President Donald Trump.
Trump praised police for their “great bravery” in the California attack and said, “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.”
The gunman was tall and wearing all black with a hood and his face partly covered, witnesses told TV stations. He first fired on a person working the door, then appeared to shoot at random at people inside, they said.
“I dropped to the floor,” Sarah Rose DeSon told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” ‘’A friend yelled, ‘Everybody down!’ We were hiding behind tables trying to keep ourselves covered.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a passing highway patrolman arrived at the Borderline around 11:20 p.m. in response to several 911 calls, heard gunfire and went inside, the sheriff said.
Helus was immediately hit with multiple gunshots, Dean said. The highway patrolman pulled Helus out, then waited as a SWAT team and scores more officers arrived. Helus died early Thursday at a hospital.
By the time they entered the bar again, the gunfire had stopped, according to the sheriff. They found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman. It was not immediately clear how he died, Dean said.
Shootings of any kind are extremely rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Los Angeles, just across the county line. The shooting happened on college night at the Borderline, which according to its website was offering lessons in country two-step dancing Wednesday.
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 also close to several other universities, including California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, Pepperdine University in Malibu and Moorpark College in Moorpark.
Nick Steinwender, Cal Lutheran student body president, told KTLA-TV he immediately started receiving messages about the shooting, and he and his roommate went to the scene to offer rides back to campus or moral support.