Twelve people were killed in a shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, Wednesday night, authorities say, after a gunman burst into a packed bar and opened fire on people dancing.
Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy Ron Helus was among those killed at the Borderline Bar and Grill. The suspect, who has not yet been identified, was found dead inside the bar, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
"It's a horrific scene in there," he said at a news conference in the bar's parking lot. "There's blood everywhere."
Police told the Los Angeles Times that at least 30 shots were fired. Witnesses said a man fired several shots from a handgun before throwing smoke bombs into the crowded bar.
The bar is a few miles from California Lutheran University and is a popular spot for students. The western-style bar hosts theme nights like country, salsa and swing dancing; Wednesday was college country night from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., according to the bar's website.
The gunman entered the bar around 11:20 p.m., cloaked in all black, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Witnesses told CNN that the gunman was "shooting everything" during line dancing. People dancing dropped to the floor and hid behind stools in silence. Others jumped over chairs and broke through windows to get out.
"This guy just came out of nowhere and came out with a gun and shot people in Thousand Oaks, California," Holden Harrah said. "And that's what's really blowing my mind, it's a really safe area."
"He was shooting everything, from the speakers to anything," Kayla Simmons said.
"I heard a gunshot, I turned around and I saw him shoot a couple more times," student Taylor Whittler said. "Within a split second, everybody yelled, 'Get down.'"
Authorities say gunshots were still being fired when they arrived on the scene. Helus, a 29-year veteran of the force, was shot as he entered the building. Dean said Helus had a wife and son and planned to retire in the coming year.
Dean held back tears as he talked about the sergeant. "Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff's sergeant who was totally committed," he said. "And tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives."
“It’s a horrific incident,” Dean said. “It’s part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere, and I think it’s impossible to put any logic or sense to the senseless."
“This community in my 41 years had never experienced anything like this," he added.
While a motive in the shooting was not immediately clear, Dean said there was no evidence linking the attack to terrorism.
Some witnesses said the bar is a hub for country music fans. Many of the attendees on Wednesday night normally attend the Stage Coach country music festival in California, reports the LA Times, and some were survivors of the Route 91 Harvest Festival attack in Las Vegas last year.
The Ventura County Fire Department says that a hotline has been established for those seeking information about loved ones. Those concerned for someone they know can call (805) 465-6650.0comments
Thousand Oaks is in Ventura County, about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
Photo credit: JAVIER TOVAR / Contributor / Getty