A gunman burst into a packed bar in Southern California and opened fire on people line dancing, killing at least 12 people before he was found dead at the scene.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Helus was among those killed Wednesday night at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, authorities said.
The suspect, who has not been identified, was found dead inside the bar, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said. He said it’s not known whether there’s a terrorism link.
‘He was shooting everything’
Holden Harrah, who was at the bar, told CNN the gunman walked in and opened fire within seconds.
“This guy just came out of nowhere and came out with a gun and shot people in Thousand Oaks, California,” Harrah said. “And that’s what’s really blowing my mind, it’s a really safe area.”
The gunfire started during line dancing, witnesses said. People dancing dropped to the floor and hid behind bar stools in stunned silence. Others jumped over chairs and broke windows to get out.
“He was shooting everything, from the speakers to anything,” Kayla Simmons said.
When deputies arrived at the scene, shots were still being fired, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Garo Kuredjian said at a news conference.
It was college night at the bar
The bar is a few miles from California Lutheran University, and is a popular spot for students on such nights. The western-style bar hosts theme nights such as country, salsa and swing dancing.
On Wednesday night, students gathered for college country night held between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., according to the bar’s website.
“I heard a gunshot, I turned around and I saw him shoot a couple more times,” student Teylor Whittler, 19, told CNN affiliate KABC.
“Within a split second, everybody yelled ‘get down’,” she said.
People “dog-piled on top of each other” trying to hide in silence, she said. Some men ran toward them and said the gunman was coming. As they escaped through the bar’s back door, she heard a second round of shots.
There was no screaming, she said. Just gunfire and stampeding crowds.
“I think everyone was in so much of a shock that it was sheer panic,” Whittler said.
Nick Steinwender, who is part of the university’s student government, said his friends were inside the bar when the shooting started. He described what they told him to the affiliate.
“It was chaos, people jumping out of windows, hopping over gates and just trying to get out,” he said. “From what I heard, the gunman started shooting at the front desk. … Students were hiding in the attics, bathrooms and stuff like that.”
Thousand Oaks is in Ventura County, about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles.