A gunman opened fired on people line dancing in a bar in Southern California, killing 12 people, including a deputy, before he was found dead at the scene.
The bar is a few miles from California Lutheran University and is a popular spot for students on such nights. The western-style bar hosts theme nights such as country, salsa and swing dancing. College students were enjoying a country music night when the suspect, dressed in dark clothing, entered the bar and opened fire.
The shots started at around 11:00 p.m. local time, around the time when all the line dancing started. Almost 200 people who were currently dancing dropped to the floor in panic, while others hid behind bar stools and the bar’s toilets. Some college students escaped the premises by using the chairs to break the windows.
Ventura Sheriff’s deputies found the suspect lifeless inside the bar and is currently being processed for identification. The suspect is believed to have committed suicide. The gunman’s motive is not clear of yet, and police are trying to deduce if this is a case of terrorism.
The suspect may have used smoke bombs to cause confusion and a handgun, described by witnesses as sounding like a semi-automatic.
An injured man told local television channel KTLA:
“We just dropped to the ground, we heard a lot of screaming. My friend is the DJ so she cut off the music, we just heard a lot of mayhem.”
Another witness from inside, Teylor Whittler, said:
“I was on the dance floor and I heard the gunshots, so I looked back and then all of a sudden everyone screamed: Get Down! It was a huge panic, everyone got up, I was trampled, I was kind of left on the floor until some guy came behind me and grabbed me and dragged me out.”
Student government member Nick Steinwender stated that his friends were inside the bar when the shooting happened. He described in detail what his friends told him:
“It was chaos, people jumping out of windows, hopping over gates and just trying to get out. From what I heard, the gunman started shooting at the front desk… Students were hiding in the attics, bathrooms and stuff like that.”
Other witnesses mentioned that none of the students and other bar patrons was even screaming, the only sound everyone can hear were gunshots and a human stampede.
First-responders arrived three minutes after the first call from the bar was made. Sheriff’s Capt. Garo Kuredjian said deputies could hear gunfire when they arrived.
One of the first deputies on the scene, Sergeant Ron Helus, was due for retirement next year. He never got the chance to do so after receiving multiple shots from the suspect. He was confirmed dead in hospital. The 29-year police veteran is survived by a wife and son.
Sheriff Geoff Dean has released this statement about Helus:
“It saddens us all and tears at our emotions. He died a hero. He went in to save lives, to save other people. I told his wife he died a hero – he went in to save lives.”
Local media have also released footage of injured people being carried out from the bar by their friends. Local police have proclaimed at least 10 people were injured, while other wounded bar patrons are self-reporting with injuries at local hospitals.
Various law enforcement agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and even some members of the National guard were on-scene to assist with the evacuation and investigation.