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Gun violence in the US

California mass shooting: slain sheriff’s deputy Ron Helus had been due to retire after 30 years of duty

  • Sergeant Ron Helus was on a call to his wife when he was alerted to the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill
PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 7:37am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 7:55am

Ventura County sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Helus was talking to his wife when calls started coming in about a shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California.

“Hey, I got to go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later,” he told her, according to Sheriff Geoff Dean.

It was the last time she would talk to her husband.

Emergency calls had flooded 911 after a gunman entered the bar on Wednesday night, and he methodically killed people on a dance floor scuffed by cowboy boots at college country night, witnesses later said.

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Gunfire was still crackling at the Borderline when Helus, a veteran deputy, arrived on the scene minutes later, along with a highway patrolman. They were prompted by their training that changed after the Columbine High School massacre: Don’t wait. Confront the shooter.

“One subject advised she didn’t see him [the gunman] come out,” Helus told a dispatcher, according to audio obtained by The Mercury News. “We’re making entry.”

A few seconds passed. “We got multiple people down,” Helus said. “We need a lot of ambulances.”

More time ticked by. Another officer radioed: “Be advised there are multiple shots being fired, the back northwest area.”

A burst of gunfire raked Helus multiple times.

The patrolman with him rescued Helus “out of the line of gunfire,” Dean told reporters early Thursday morning, and helped secure the scene for more officers to arrive.

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Dean announced the deaths of 11 people in the news conference.

His voice cracked. Helus, he said, was the 12th. He died at a hospital – a year before he was set to retire with 30 years of service.

“He was totally committed, he gave his all, and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero,” Dean said. “He went in to save lives – to save other people.”

At a second briefing, Dean said the Ventura County community had “lost a hero. It’s lost a great human being.”

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US President Donald Trump praised the “great bravery shown by police,” adding in a tweet: “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.” Trump later ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff.

Helus was a resident of nearby Moorpark and is survived by a wife and son, Dean said. Helus was an avid outdoorsman who traversed the serene waters of the San Joaquin River. On some backcountry trips, he would see more bald eagles and deer than people, he said on Facebook.

“I’ve probably had 200 bear and 3 mountain lion encounters,” Helus told a Facebook friend who jokingly asked if he were part animal.

Helus did what he was trained to do, Dean said. The 1999 killings at Columbine transformed the way law enforcement respond to active shooter incidents, he explained. Before then, officers and first responders secured a perimeter and waited.

Now training has emphasised aggressive pursuit of suspects before they kill more people or target those already wounded.

“When you get to a scene, and there’s two of you, or even just one of you and there’s shooting going on, you go in,” Dean said.

The gunfire briefly quieted, the sheriff said, as people scrambled to hide in restrooms and in attics.

Investigators were still working to determine the motive and other details.

“I saw three people get shot by him,” said Teylor Whittler, 19, describing the shooter. She was raised in a military family and is familiar with firearms, she told Fox News.

“He had perfect form,” Whittler said. “He looked like he knew what he was doing.”

Authorities identified the gunman as ex-Marine 28-year-old Ian David Long.

In addition to the dead, Dean estimated that there were upwards of 10 to 12 shooting victims who were “rescued from the scene and taken to local hospitals.” Additional victims with minor injuries fled the scene on their own, he added.

Dean, whose own retirement as sheriff is effective on Friday, choked up again when he was asked how the department would honour Helus.

Deputies, he said, will close down roads for a morning procession, where they will escort Helus’s body from a hospital to the county medical examiner’s office.

“It’s so tragic losing Ron,” Dean said. “We go to the gym together, work out together. It’s horrific and terrible and it saddens our hearts.”