THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — At least 11 bar patrons and a sheriff’s deputy were killed late Wednesday in a shooting at a country and western dance hall in Thousand Oaks, Calif., that was holding an event for college students, officials said.
The gunman is dead, officials said early Thursday, adding that there was no longer a threat to those at the bar, which had been filled with about 100 people at the time of the attack.
The Ventura County sheriff, Geoff Dean, said there were “multiple other victims of different levels of injuries.” His voice cracking, he identified the slain sheriff’s deputy as Ron Helus. When officers arrived at the scene of the shooting, he added, the suspect had already died.
Sheriff Dean said the suspect had not been identified, that the authorities had “no idea” whether he had links to terrorism, and that it was not clear if he had taken his own life.
Country music was playing in the dimly lit bar when people first heard gunshots some time before midnightSome said they had initially mistaken the sounds for firecrackers.
Chyann Worrell, a junior at California State University Channel Islands, said that she was at the bar to celebrate the 21st birthday of her friend Nellie Wong, and that she had seen the assailant draw his gun and aim it at a man near the front of the bar. She ducked for cover and heard a barrage of bullets follow.
“It’s your worst nightmare,” said Brenden Kelly, 22, who was in the club Wednesday night when shots were fired. “It’s terrible.” Several young women said he had helped them escape.
The shooting at the popular country and western venue came just over a year after 58 people were killed at a country music festival in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire from a high-rise hotel room.
That attack — and the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February — renewed the debate about the prevalence of guns in the United States and their connection to the high number of mass shootings in the country.
The rampage began late Wednesday at the popular music venue in Thousand Oaks. “There were shots fired at the Borderline Bar and Grill” at 11:20 p.m., said Capt. Garo Kuredjian, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. “As deputies responded, they also heard shots.” Additional units from the California Highway Patrol, Simi Valley and the F.B.I. responded, he said.
Captain Kuredjian said at the time of the shooting that about 100 people had been inside the bar, which was filled with young people who turned out for a college country music night. The bar is not far from Pepperdine University, which said in a statement that it had received reports that several students were at the bar when the shooting occurred.
Borderline’s website says that for a quarter century, it “has stood as the Ventura County’s largest country dance hall and live music venue,” with more than 2,500 square feet of open dance space.
One young woman inside the bar, Teylor Whittler, described a chaotic scene as the gunfire erupted.
“I saw him shoot,” she recalled, adding that someone had yelled, “Everybody get down.”
“People started running to the back door,” she said, and she heard someone shout, “Get out — he’s coming.”
She then fled the venue and heard another burst of gunfire.
Ms. Wong, who was celebrating her birthday, was trapped in the club until the police arrived and described the scene as a blur.
“I’m so sorry your birthday got ruined,” Sarah DeSon told her when they were reunited later.
“She’s alive though. She’s alive for her 21st birthday,” said Ms. Whittler, whose badly scratched leg had just been bandaged by emergency medical workers. Moments later, Ms. Whittler’s parents arrived in a truck to check in on her.
“Were you hit?” her mother asked, with panic in her eyes. “No it’s just a scratch, I’m fine, I’m fine,” Ms. Whittler said.
A witness interviewed by ABC7.com said that the violence started when the gunman walked up to the entrance to the bar, shot a security guard and a cashier, and deployed a smoke bomb.
“I just started hearing these big pops,” said the witness, a man who was not identified. “The gunman was throwing smoke grenades.”
Then, panic ensued as people tried to flee.
“He just kept firing,” the witness said, adding that “people were trying to get out the window” to run away from the gunman, who was wearing a hat and a black jacket and had “a big handgun.”
Video from the scene showed police units from multiple departments swarming the area. A Twitter post showed tearful young people at the scene hugging each other.
Thousand Oaks, a relatively affluent city in Ventura County, is about 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and near wealthy enclaves like Calabasas and Malibu.
Michael Miller, 25, who lives near the Borderline and is a regular, was on his way to the bar Wednesday night from another concert when people began to call him frantically asking if he was inside.
He said the bar is popular with police officers and firefighters, and that it is often busy on Wednesdays because it hosts a college night and allows students under 21 to enter.
As Mr. Miller and his friend Chris Weber walked toward the bar, which was surrounded by police tape, they received a call that a friend who worked the door had been shot. “She’s the sweetest, nicest girl,” Mr. Miller said, trailing off. “Nobody would expect this in Thousand Oaks.”
Mr. Weber said that many of the people he believed were at Borderline on Wednesday night had attended the music festival in Las Vegas last year where dozens died. He was frantically calling friends early Thursday to try to confirm who was inside.
Young women who were at the Borderline expressed disbelief that the bar, which they sometimes go to several times a week, could become the site of such violence.
“It’s safe. It’s a safe place to be,” said Erika Sigman, a sophomore at Cal State Channel Island. “You can stay out all night at Borderline because there’s major security.”