A HOODED gunman dressed all in black opened fire during ‘college night’ at a country music bar in Southern California, killing 12 people and sending hundreds fleeing in terror.
Using a smoke bomb and a handgun, killer Ian David Long — a 28-year-old former Marine — first fired on a person working the door, then appeared to shoot at random people inside.
He then, apparently, killed himself.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said his department had several previous contacts with Long, including a call to his home in April, when deputies found him angry and acting irrationally.
The sheriff said a mental health crisis team was called at the time and concluded Long did not need to be taken into custody.
Patrons at the bar screamed in fear, shouted ‘Get down!’ and used bar stools to smash second-floor windows and jump to safety as gunfire erupted at the Borderline Bar And Grill, a Thousand Oaks venue popular with students from nearby California Lutheran University.
The dead included 11 people inside the bar and a sheriff’s sergeant who was the first officer inside the door, the sheriff said.
‘It’s a horrific scene in there,’ Mr Dean said in a press conference at a car park.
‘There’s blood everywhere.’
The killer deployed a smoke device and used a .45-calibre handgun.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the US 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, Pennsylvania.
That, in turn, closely followed the series of pipe bombs mailed to critics of US president Donald Trump.
Mr Trump praised police for their ‘great bravery’ in the California attack and said: ‘God bless all of the victims and families of the victims’.
The gunman was tall and wearing all black with a hood and his face partly covered, witnesses told TV stations.
‘I dropped to the floor,’ Sarah Rose DeSon told ABC’s Good Morning America.
‘A friend yelled, “Everybody down!” We were hiding behind tables trying to keep ourselves covered.’
Sheriff’s sergeant Ron Helus and a passing highway patrolman arrived at the Borderline around 11.20pm in response to several 911 calls, heard gunfire and went inside, the sheriff said.
Sgt Helus was immediately hit with multiple gunshots, Mr Dean said.
The highway patrolman pulled Sgt Helus out, then waited as a Swat team and scores more officers arrived.
Sgt Helus died early this morning in hospital.
By the time police entered the bar again, the gunfire had stopped, according to the sheriff.
They found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman, who apparently took his own life, the sheriff said.
‘There’s no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect,’ said Mr Dean, who was set to retire tomorrow.
He praised the murdered officer, a close friend, as a hero, saying: ‘He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price.’
Shootings of any kind are extremely rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles west of Los Angeles, just across the county line.
The Borderline, which includes a large dance hall along with several smaller areas for eating and drinking, was holding its regular College Country Nights when the attack took place.
The bar is also close to several other universities, including California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, Pepperdine University in Malibu and Moorpark College in Moorpark.
The dead sheriff’s officer was a 29-year veteran of the force with a wife and son, who had planned to retire in the coming year, said the sheriff, who choked back tears as he talked about his long-time friend.
‘Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant who was totally committed,’ Mr Dean said.
‘And tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives.’