President Donald Trump began his Thursday morning by tweeting his praise for law enforcement officers who responded to a mass-shooting in California overnight, and by ordering government offices to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until Saturday evening.
A masked gunman opened fire on a crowd of college students at a country music bar in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, killing 13 before fatally shooting himself with a handgun.
A sergeant from the local sheriff’s department was among the fallen.
‘I have been fully briefed on the terrible shooting in California. Law Enforcement and First Responders, together with the FBI, are on scene. 13 people, at this time, have been reported dead,’ Trump wrote to his Twitter audience.
The president praised the ‘[g]reat bravery shown by police.’
‘California Highway Patrol was on scene within 3 minutes, with [the] first officer to enter shot numerous times. That Sheriff’s Sergeant died in the hospital.’
President Donald Trump responded to a mass-shooting in a California bar by praising police
Ron Helus (pictured) – a Ventura County sheriff sergeant – was among the deceased. The ‘hardworking’ officer had 29 years of experience in the force and leaves behind a wife and son
Trump tweeted Thursday morning that a sheriff’s sergeant was killed in the hail of gunfire
Law enforcement officers secured the road leading to the Borderline Bar & Grill where a gunman opened fire
Police said a dozen people were killed after shooting began; at least 200 people were reportedly inside the bar attending a college Country Music Night event
‘God bless all of the victims and families of the victims. Thank you to Law Enforcement,’ Trump wrote.
The shooter threw smoke grenades and fired into the crowd of bar patrons as they scrambled for cover. He was dead by the time a SWAT TEAM stormed the building.
Ron Helus, a Ventura County sheriff sergeant with 29 years of experience, was one of the first officers on the scene.
He looked like he knew what he was doing. He had practiced, he had been shooting before
– Witness Teylor Whittler
He and another officer from California Highway Patrol arrived at the bar minutes after the first 911 calls came in.
Helus entered the bar to confront the gunman and was shot multiple times. He was taken to the hospital but died of his injuries afterwards.
The ‘hardworking’ officer, who was due to retire this year, had 29 years of experience in the force and leaves behind a wife and son.
An additional ’10 to 15′ victims were injured during the mass shooting, including the bouncer, a young female cashier and college students.
The gunman shot himself before police got inside. He was dressed in all-black, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a mask covering the bottom part of his face.
The president ordered feredal government agencies to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until Saturday; this image shows the White House’s flag on Thursday morning
Law enforcement officers guarded the road leading to the bar late Wewdnesday night
He walked up to the entrance at 11:20 p.m. and shot the bouncer before making his way into the venue.
He then shot a young female cashier before throwing smoke grenades onto the dance floor and letting off rounds into the crowd.
Terrified dancers used bar stools to smash the windows so that they could climb out and flee.
Witnesses said the gunman said ‘nothing’ as he opened fire and was composed throughout the massacre.
‘I was just dancing normally and I heard what I thought was a balloon pop. I was confused then I heard it a couple more times then I turned around and I saw him.
‘I ran to the nearest exit and tripped and fell on the way I knocked on as many doors as I could until someone would answer me and finally someone did. It was awful,’ Taylor Von Molt, a promoter for the club, told CNN.
An injured man who appears to have been shot is rushed to safety at the Borderline Bar and Grill
Men hide outside the Borderline Bar and Grill after a shooter opened fire on Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, California
Matt Wennerstorm stands outside Borderline Bar and Grill on Wednesday night after escaping from the gunfire (left). Relieved family members embrace their loved ones after 12 people were shot at the bar in Thousand Oaks, near California (right)
More than 100 people, many of whom were students (pictured) as young as 18, were in the bar when the gunman opened fire
A survivor of a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, reels outside after escaping with his life
Survivors wearing cowboy boots wrap themselves in a blanket after escaping the gunman on Wednesday night
She said the gunman’s mask looked like a bandanna and was covering the bottom of his face.
‘He had a black mask, it looked like a bandanna, on the bottom of his face, sunglasses dark hoodie, dark jeans. He was kind of bigger, more burly. Scary,’ the 21-year-old said.
Teylor Whittler, another witness, said the gunman had ‘perfect form’ and ‘looked like he knew what he was doing.’
‘I saw three people get shot by him. As soon as he walked in, he had perfect form. I’m born in a military family and I’ve been around guns my entire life so I know a bit about them.
‘He looked like he knew what he was doing. He had practiced, he had been shooting before,’ she told Fox News.
She added that while the bar was popular among students, it attracted patrons of all ages.
‘College students go there, high school seniors go there, elderly people go there. Everyone who loves country goes there,’ she said.
Witnesses (pictured sharing a blanket after escaping the tragedy) had to use chairs to smash the windows of the bar to escape
An FBI officer stands guard outside of the bar and debriefs distressed witnesses, some of who lost their shoes amidst the chaotic scenes
A young reveler is in a state of shock after witnesses a gunman fire at least 30 rounds at a crowd of country music fans
A young girl phones her loved ones to let them know she’s safe, as her friend comforts and shares a blanket with her
People comfort each other as they stand near the scene where a gunman threw smoke bombs and fired a pistol with extended magazines
Several minutes after the gunman opened fire, a SWAT team arrived and found 11 victims dead inside.
‘It’s a horrific scene in there, there is blood everywhere and the suspect is part of that, and I didn’t want to get that close and disturb the scene and possibly disturb the investigation,’ Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said afterwards.
Dean was due to retire on Thursday, the day after the shooting. He and Helus were workout buddies.
‘Ron was a hardworking dedicated sheriff’s sergeant. He was totally committed, he gave his all and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero; he went into save lives, to save other people,’ he said after the shooting.
There were 100 people inside the bar when the gunman opened fire, police said, and the number of casualties is ‘very likely’ to go up.
One witness told ABC7: ‘I was at the front door talking to my stepdad. I heard these big pops.
The officer directs members of the public away from the Borderline Bar and Grill while an investigation is carried out
An emotional Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean (pictured) told reporters his ‘good friend’ Ron Helus was killed in the attack
A sheriff deputy speaks to a potential witness as they stand near the scene (left) while officers inspect vehicles in the car park searching for the perpetrator’s vehicle
‘There were three or four and I hit the ground. The security guard was dead and the man had a handgun.
‘He threw in smoke bombs and he kept firing. People threw chairs out of the windows to try to get away.
‘The gunman had glasses and a black jacket. He had a big hand gun.’
Another witness said: ‘This maniac came in. Threw in smoke to confuse people and opened fire on the dancefloor. He’s taken many young lives.
Witnesses reported a horrifying scene as gunfire echoed through the club and those inside ran for cover, in some cases breaking windows with chairs and other pieces of furniture to get out of the building.
The shooter stormed in the venue wearing a black trench coat armed with high capacity sub machine guns, witnesses said
The bar is popular with college kids because it allows under 21s in on Wednesday nights. Those who were not old enough to drink had black X’s stamped on their hands.
People were hiding from the shooter in bathrooms and attic spaces, while others who managed to escape fled to nearby gas stations for medical help.
Local hospitals have been inundated with victims who’ve transported themselves to emergency rooms with injuries seeking medical help.
One witness, who was at the bar with his step-son, described the sequence of events. He said: ‘He shot the front doorman, who was just a young man.
‘Then he shot the cashier, just a young girl. Then he started moving to the right. He wasn’t looking at us. Then he went into the office, where all the cash and stuff is.
‘He didn’t say anything at all. He just started shooting.’