UPDATED 8:30 P.M. EST
WASHINGTON — A procession on Thursday in Southern California honored the sheriff’s sergeant who was among 12 people killed at a bar Wednesday during “College Night” by a gunman who was found dead at the scene.
Bystanders alongside and on overpasses above the 101 Freeway in Thousand Oaks solemnly paid tribute to Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office as a hearse accompanied by emergency vehicles passed by. Firefighters hoisted huge American flags on the ladders of firetrucks along the freeway to honor the fallen sergeant. His body was transported from a hospital to the medical examiner’s office in the late morning local time.
Helus, 54, was one of the first officers to arrive at the Borderline Bar & Grill in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, responding within three minutes to reports of gunfire called in at about 11:20 p.m. local time, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said. Helus rushed into the dark bar along with two California Highway Patrol officers and was shot “multiple times” as he entered, according to the sheriff.
Helus, a married father of an adult son, was a 29-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and had planned to retire in a year or so, the sheriff said at a news conference. Colleagues described Helus as someone who always wanted to help people.
At least a dozen people were injured when the gunman threw smoke bombs and fired on the patrons — many of them college students — as well as staff at the packed bar on “Country College Night.” The sheriff said Helus first shot the security guard outside then went inside.
Dean described the bar to reporters as “a horrific scene.”
He identified the shooter as 28-year-old Ian David Long, a veteran who was a machine gunner in the Marines. The sheriff said it appears that Long fatally shot himself.
The sheriff said Long was armed with a Glock 21 .45 caliber that was legally purchased. Dean said the weapon was “designed to hold a magazine of 10 rounds and one in the chamber.
“He had an extended magazine on it.”
Long joined the Marines Aug. 2, 2008, according to a portion of his service record that the Marines Corps released Thursday morning on Twitter. He was deployed to Afghanistan from Nov. 16, 2010 to June 14, 2011. Six weeks after returning, he was promoted to the rank of corporal. He was awarded 11 medals, ribbons and commendations during his time in the military, according to the records. He was honorably discharged March 2, 2013.
Long might have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, Dean said.
“We’ve had several contacts with Mr. Long over the years,” the sheriff said. He described an incident in April in which deputies responded to Long’s home — where he apparently lived with his mother — in response to a report of someone causing a disturbance. The sheriff described Long as “somewhat irate, acting a little irrationally.”
He said the deputies summoned the sheriff’s office’s “crisis intervention team, our mental health specialists.” They met with Long and and determined there was no justification to take him into custody, the sheriff said.
Dean said six off-duty law enforcement officers from different agencies happened to be in the bar at the time of the shooting. He noted that a mother told him that officers had stood in front of her daughter to shield her from the bullets.
The sheriff praised his slain sergeant.
“He died a hero because he went in to save lives, to save other people.”
Dean said Helus was on the phone with his wife when he got the call about gunfire at the bar.
“He said to her, ‘I gotta go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later.’ ”
Helus died at a hospital.