THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Terrified patrons hurled barstools through windows to escape or threw their bodies protectively on top of friends as a Marine combat veteran killed 12 people at a country music bar in an attack that added Thousand Oaks to the tragic roster of American cities traumatized by mass shootings.
Dressed all in black with his hood pulled up, the gunman apparently took his own life as scores of police converged on the Borderline Bar & Grill in Southern California.
The motive for the rampage late Wednesday night was under investigation.
The killer , Ian David Long, 28, was a former machine gunner and Afghanistan war veteran who was interviewed by police at his home last spring after an episode of agitated behavior that authorities were told might be related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Opening fire with a handgun with an illegal, extra-capacity magazine, Long shot a security guard outside the bar and then went in and took aim at employees and patrons, authorities said. He also used a smoke bomb, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The dead included a veteran sheriff’s deputy who rushed in to confront the gunman, as well as a 22-year-old man who planned to join the Army, a freshman at nearby Pepperdine University and a recent Cal Lutheran graduate.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said in the parking lot. “There’s blood everywhere.”
Survivors of the rampage — mostly young people who had gone out for college night at the Borderline, a hangout popular with students from nearby California Lutheran University — seemed to know what to do, having come of age in an era of active-shooter drills and deadly rampages happening with terrifying frequency.
Several of the survivors said they were also at the outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas last year when a gunman in a high-rise hotel killed 58 people.
Many of the estimated 150 patrons at the Borderline dived under tables, ran for the exits, broke through windows or hid in the attic and bathrooms, authorities and witnesses said.
“Unfortunately our young people, people at nightclubs, have learned that this may happen, and they think about that,” the sheriff said. “Fortunately it helped save a lot of lives that they fled the scene so rapidly.”
Matt Wennerstrom said he pulled people behind a pool table, and he and friends shielded women with their bodies after hearing the shots. When the gunman paused to reload, Wennerstrom said, he used a barstool to shatter a window and then helped about 30 people escape. He heard another volley of shots after they got out.
“All I wanted to do was get as many people out of there as possible,” he told KABC-TV. “I know where I’m going if I die, so I was not worried.”
The tragedy left a community that is annually listed as one of the safest cities in America reeling. Shootings of any kind are extremely rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Los Angeles, just across the county line.
Scores of people showed up to donate blood for the wounded, and all morning, people looking for missing friends and relatives arrived at a community center where authorities and counselors were informing the next-of-kin of those who died. Many people walked past TV cameras with blank stares or tears in their eyes. In the parking lot, some comforted each other with hugs or a pat on the back.
Jason Coffman received the news that his son Cody, 22, who was about to join the Army, was dead. Coffman broke down as he told reporters how his last words to his son as he went out that night were not to drink and drive and that he loved him.
“Oh, Cody, I love you, son,” Coffman sobbed.
It was the nation’s deadliest such attack 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.
Democratic Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, in his first public appearance since winning office on Tuesday, lamented the violence that has come again to California.
“It’s a gun culture,” he said. “You can’t go to a bar or nightclub? You can’t go to church or synagogue? It’s insane is the only way to describe it. The normalization, that’s the only way I can describe it. It’s become normalized.”
President Donald Trump praised police for their “great bravery” in the attack and ordered flags flown at half-staff in honor of the victims.
Authorities searched Long’s home in Newbury Park, about 5 miles from the Borderline bar, for clues to what set him off.
“There’s no indication that he targeted the employees. We haven’t found any correlation,” the sheriff said. “Maybe there was a motive for this particular night, but we have no information leading to that at all.”