THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.
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 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 and 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 have been 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 customers, 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 and other schools—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 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 and others shattered windows with barstools and helped about 30 people escape. He heard another volley of shots once he was safely outside.
“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.”
A video posted on Instagram after the shooting by one of the patrons showed an empty dance floor with the sound of windows breaking in the background. As a silhouetted figure entered a doorway, the camera turned erratically and 10 gunshots rang out.
“I looked him in his eyes while he killed my friends,” Dallas Knapp wrote on his post. “I hope he rots in hell for eternity.”
During a break in the gunfire, Knapp bolted out a door, yelling, “Run, he’s coming out this door.”
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 from Los Angeles.
Scores of people stood in line for hours 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 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.”
Long was in the Marines from 2008 to 2013, rose to the rank of corporal and served in Afghanistan in 2010-11 before he was honorably discharged, the military said. Court records show he married in 2009 and was divorced in 2013.
Authorities said he had no criminal record, but in April officers were called to his home, where deputies found him angry and acting irrationally. The sheriff said officers were told he might have PTSD because of his military service. A mental health specialist met with him and didn’t feel he needed to be hospitalized.
Tom Hanson, 70, who lives next door to Long and his mother, said Thursday that he called the police about six months ago when he heard “heavy-duty banging” and shouting coming from the Longs’ home.
His wife, Julie Hanson, said they consulted a neighbor before deciding to make the call and were concerned Long would harm himself or his mother.
“Somebody has missed something here,” she said. “This woman has to know that this child needed help.”
Long was armed with a Glock 21, a .45-caliber pistol designed to hold 10 rounds plus one in the chamber, according to the sheriff. But it had an extended magazine—one capable of holding more ammunition—that is illegal in California, Dean said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a passing highway patrolman arrived at the club around 11:20 p.m. in response to several 911 calls, heard gunfire and went inside, the sheriff said. Helus was immediately shot, Dean said.
The highway patrolman pulled Helus out, then waited as a SWAT team and other officers arrived. Helus died at a hospital.
By the time officers entered the bar again—about 15 to 20 minutes later, according to the sheriff’s office—the gunfire had stopped. They found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman, who was discovered in an office, the sheriff said.
“There’s no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect,” said Dean, who was set to retire Friday. He praised the slain officer—a close friend—as a hero: “He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price.”
One other person was wounded by gunfire, and as many as 15 others suffered minor injuries from jumping out windows or diving under tables, authorities said.
Five off-duty police officers who were at the bar also helped people escape, authorities said.
For several hours after the violence, survivors gathered in the dark, some sobbing and hugging as they awaited word on the fate of friends as ambulances idled nearby. Several men were bare-chested after using their shirts to plug wounds and tie tourniquets.
Nick Steinwender, Cal Lutheran student body president, told KTLA-TV he immediately started receiving messages about the shooting, and he and his roommate went to the scene to offer rides back to campus or moral support.
“It’s going to be a very somber day,” Steinwender said. “I know we don’t have all the details in yet, but you know, it just feels like it’s an attack on our community.”
Around midday, the body of the slain sheriff’s officer was taken by motorcade from the hospital to the coroner’s office. Thousands of people stood along the route or pulled over in their vehicles to watch the hearse pass.
Helus was a 29-year veteran of the force with a wife and son and planned to retire in the coming year, said the sheriff, choking back tears.
The Milton School District’s strategic planning committee picked a facilities referendum plan to present to the school board at its next meeting Monday, though the plan won’t receive final approval until at least Nov. 26.
Most of the school board’s strategic planning committee, which consists of the entire board, agreed that a $59.96 million option was the best choice among four remaining proposals.
This plan would include renovations and additions at the middle school and all four elementary schools. The high school would get gym and STEM upgrades and a new pool.
Six of the committee’s seven members agreed the plan, known as Option A, addressed the most needs. It would enhance most district buildings, add space for academic programming and address overcrowding.
The costs of the four plans ranged from $56.74 million to $60.79 million. Committee co-chairman Joe Martin said because of the narrow price range, he based his decision on finding the best fit for teachers and students.
Committee and school board Brian Kvapil said he needed more time to review data for each option. He criticized representatives from JP Cullen and Plunkett Raysich Architects for not providing plan details until earlier this week, giving him little time for analysis.
At an Oct. 25 meeting, the committee was close to settling on Option A before Kvapil requested more information about classroom dimensions, square footage of new space and more.
The extra data had little influence on the rest of the committee, But Kvapil said he couldn’t pick the best value until he had a chance to thoroughly review each option.
He thought some options had unnecessary features that could be cut. If he had more time, Kvapil said he might be able to find between $5 million and $10 million worth of savings.
Kvapil did feel comfortable eliminating Option C, which would have realigned grades and brought sixth grade to the middle school.
Option B’s included a large addition at East Elementary. Most committee members were concerned this would place a disproportionate number of students in one school.
Option D was the same as Option A, except it did not include a high school gym addition. Committee members, not including Kvapil, considered having no high school gym upgrades a non-starter.
Despite disagreement between Kvapil and other members, the committee agreed to present Option A at Monday’s full school board meeting. The board would take two weeks to consider the plan and then vote on referendum terms Nov. 26.
The board cannot delay that vote much longer. The district’s legal team needs time to review the proposal before submitting it to the state before January.
After failed facilities proposals in 2016 and 2017, Martin said he was optimistic the third time would be the charm. He noted many school districts in the area passed school referendums Tuesday night, some by lopsided margins.
This round of referendum planning has incorporated more community ideas while staying focused on district needs, Martin said, leaving him encouraged that Milton would finally pass a facilities referendum this spring.
Robert E. Arnold
Bridgette “Bird” Clavey
Terry L. Jenkins
Maynard “Milt” Mildorfer
Carolyn E. Moffitt
Virginia L. “Ginny” Peters
The owner of the Janesville Mall said he wasn’t surprised to learn Thursday the Sears store is closing, and he’s optimistic the store’s departure could pave the way for a more vibrant retail use.
In a phone interview with The Gazette, RockStep Capital President Andy Weiner confirmed the two-floor Sears department store and the standalone Sears automotive center north of the mall likely will close sometime in early February.
Texas-based RockStep, a shopping mall owner and management firm, owns the Janesville Mall, 2500 Milton Ave.
Sears Holdings, the parent of Sears stores, did not return calls from The Gazette on Thursday.
The Sears closure would leave another anchor store vacant at the Janesville Mall. In 2014, it lost JC Penney, and earlier this year the mall went through the shuttering of Boston Store after parent company Bon-Ton Stores filed for bankruptcy.
JC Penney and Boston Store rented space at the mall, but Sears owns and operates both the department store building and the auto center building.
Weiner said he was “saddened” but “not surprised” Sears, a former American retail behemoth now moving through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, would shutter its Janesville stores.
Weiner said he was “100 percent” certain the Sears stores would be closing even as his company was working to buy the mall earlier this year.
He said RockStep’s strategy of reviving and redeveloping the mall always has hinged on Sears’ departure as a given, not a mere possibility.
“While it’s unfortunate to see such a major retailer leave the market, we had expected they would close sometime in 2018,” Weiner said. “The only surprise is that it wasn’t sooner.”
Weiner said RockStep is examining “all options” on what might happen with the two Sears properties. But he said because Sears, not the mall, owns the stores and because Sears is working through bankruptcy in the courts, it’s not clear who might acquire the local Sears property.
Weiner believes the Sears department store at the mall has “strong” exposure to traffic on the Milton Avenue shopping corridor, and he said its size and setup give it bright prospects for retail re-use.
He said the Sears department store “hasn’t done much in the way of business,” and hasn’t drawn foot traffic to the mall for some time. If the Sears properties are freed up for redevelopment through sale or acquisition, the mall might see brighter prospects, Weiner said.
“We’ve always known the redevelopment and the reusability of the mall takes a big step forward as this Sears building transitions,” Weiner said.
Gale Price, city economic development director, said he learned of Sears’ planned closure Thursday morning after the city got an email from Avis, a car rental company that operates out of the Janesville Sears auto center.
He said an Avis employee was asking the city for leads on a location where it could move its Janesville operations. The employee cited the reason for the inquiry as Sears was being slated to shutter its Janesville stores.
Price said a Sears employee told him Sears broke the news to workers at the Janesville store Thursday morning. Price said he learned of the closures about 11 a.m. Thursday.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many employees will be affected by the apparent closure or whether Sears would hold liquidation sales at the mall.
Price said he believes Sears might be motivated to sell or hand off the two Janesville stores to generate cash. He expected to be in touch with RockStep officials to learn how the city might assist the owner with a pending vacancy that would leave the mall’s anchor store space more than half empty.
RockStep bought the Janesville mall earlier this year for $18 million—a deep discount compared to the $33 million the former owner CBL & Associates property paid for the mall in 1998. Prior to the mall’s sale, CBL had pumped millions into renovations of the mall’s concourse and new store lighting. It lured Dick’s and Ulta Beauty only months after JC Penney closed.
Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kohl’s, which will be the two remaining anchor retailers at the Janesville Mall, are both performing “great,” Weiner said.
During a presentation to Janesville-area stakeholders and city officials this spring, Weiner was optimistic about the mall’s future for retail use, although he said it’s likely RockStep would have to groom some large-scale empty retail space for uses other than department stores.
Thursday, Weiner said he thinks it could take “18 to 36 months” for the Sears properties to be repositioned for some reuse. He said RockStep already is working on prospects for reuse of about 100,000 square feet of the vacant Boston Store, and it’s in talks over potential reuse for the portion of the former JC Penney store that remains vacant.
Both of those stores dominate the east side of the mall, which is removed from the main traffic flow on Milton Avenue.
Weiner said it’s unlikely the former Boston Store and the former JC Penney space will draw future retail use. He wouldn’t disclose any specific prospects RockStep is eyeing, but he said some possible uses include entertainment and office use.