THOUSAND OAKS, California (REUTERS) - A gunman opened fire in a crowded Southern California bar popular with college students, killing 12 people including a sheriff's deputy, police said on Thursday (Nov 8), in the latest US mass shooting that stunned a community with a reputation for safety.
The gunman, identified by authorities as Ian David Long, 28, was found dead in the office of the Borderline Bar and Grill, located in Thousand Oaks, a suburb about 65km north-west of Los Angeles after the incident at about 11.30pm PST on Wednesday (3.30pm on Thursday, Singapore time), apparently having shot himself.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told a news conference on Thursday morning that Long had apparently fired at random with a .45-caliber Glock handgun with an extra-capacity magazine.
There was no known motive, he said.
"Obviously, he had something going on in his head that would cause him to do something like this," Dean said. "Obviously, he had some sort of issues."
Long was in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2013, reaching the rank of corporal, and served as a machine gunner who was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months. Dean said it was possible that Long had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dean told reporters that officers had gone to Long's home in nearby Newbury Park, about 6km from the bar, in April to answer a disturbance call and found him to be agitated. Mental health specialists talked with Long and determined that no further action was necessary.
Dean said authorities were waiting for a search warrant for Long's home.
The bar shooting was the latest mass killing in the United States and was sure to revive the debate on gun control. Less than two weeks ago 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed by a man shouting "All Jews must die."
The Borderline is popular with university students and on Wednesday night hosted College Country Night. California Lutheran University, located about 8km from the bar, cancelled classes on Thursday while Pepperdine University, about 30km away, planned a prayer service.
Bar patron Cole Knapp, 19, told Reuters he saw the gunman walk in and stop at the counter, apparently paying a cover charge. Then Knapp heard gunfire and saw a young woman at the counter shot repeatedly.
"It took a couple of seconds for people to realize what was going on and once that happened it was just utter chaos," he said.
Knapp said he first helped people hide behind a pool table and then fled to the bar's outdoor smoking patio, where people were unaware of the shooting.
Once outside, Knapp said, he and a friend helped carry a gunshot victim to an ambulance.
"I'm just reeling, riding on adrenaline right now," he said."It's just kind of unbelievable that somebody would want to come to a place I care about and hurt people that I care about."
Thousand Oaks, with a population of about 127,000, is a leafy, sprawling suburb named the third safest city in the United States for 2018 by Niche, a company that researches cities' schools, income, real estate, crime and other livability factors.
"I've learned it doesn't matter what community you're in," Dean told reporters when asked if he was surprised this happened in Thousand Oaks. "It doesn't matter how safe your community is. It can happen anywhere."
One man, Jason Coffman, told reporters that his son, Cody, 22, was among the dead.
"This is going to be an absolutely heart-wrenching time for me and my family," Coffman said. "This is a heart that I will never get back."
Names of the victims were not immediately made public and about 60 people were gathered at a teen centre in Thousand Oaks waiting to learn if their loved ones were among the dead. After families were briefed, one man sat outside on the curb sobbing loudly.
PROCESSION FOR SLAIN LAWMAN
Ventura County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran with a wife and son, was shot in the bar and died at a hospital.
Helus' colleague, Sergeant Julie Novak, told CNN that he was talking to his wife on the phone when the Borderline call came in. He reached the bar in two minutes.
A procession of at least 50 police cars and other vehicles escorted the hearse carrying his body from the hospital. Dozens of people watched from the sidewalk and firefighters stood at attention as it passed.
Among those outside the hospital was Ellen Rivera, who said she had survived the October 2017 slaughter of 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas - the worst mass shooting in US history.
She said the support of the Thousand Oaks community had helped her get through the trauma of that incident and that it hurt to see her friends suffering now.
"To have the people who supported me to be affected themselves, it's just too much," she said.
Dean, who was speaking on his last day before retirement, said he had been told that 150 to 200 people were in the Borderline at the time. "It could have been much, much worse."
Asked what the scene inside the bar was like, Dean said, "Like... hell."
Earlier, he had described it as "a horrific scene in there. There is blood everywhere and the suspect is part of that."
Dean estimated 10 to 15 people, including one with a gunshot wound, had gone to hospitals. He said he believed their injuries were minor, and that most were likely injured as they escaped, some by breaking windows.
Jennifer Avalos, 20, held back tears as she left the teen center, where she had hoped to learn the fate of her friend, Noel Sparks, 21, who had been at Borderline. They had texted each before the shooting but Sparks did not come home.
President Donald Trump, who has resisted a surge in calls for tougher gun control measures since 17 students and staff were shot dead at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida earlier this year, ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at public buildings and grounds.