By BRIAN MELLEY AND CHRISTOPHER WEBER | Associated Press
Video from cameras carried by deputies responding to a mass shooting at a bar in Southern California in 2018 and footage of help calls released Tuesday captured the chaos, horror and confusion of the massacre that left a dozen people dead.
Frightened patrons hiding from an armed man still pursuing victims reported the whisper of the shooting to the sender, while others sobbed over the trauma of an event still unfolding. Officers encountered patrons running for their lives and a man bleeding in the parking lot while friends tried to rescue him.
The footage and sound from the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting were released Tuesday by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office after a court battle by The Associated Press and other news outlets seeking evidence under public records laws.
While the evidence was documented in a more than 400-page report on the shooting released in July, it was the first time the video and call recordings were released.
Investigators concluded that Ian David Long, 28, who served as a Marine in Afghanistan, felt that college students despised veterans and targeted the Thousand Oaks country bar because it was student night. Long took his own life when police surrounded the building on November 7, 2018.
When lines rang from the hook at a sheriff’s call center, a woman who reported the shooting whispered, “We’re hiding. The guy is probably still here.”
When an officer asked another woman if she saw the shooting, she replied, “It’s still happening!”
The cartridges were still running in cover when the first officers arrived.
Videos from the perspective of a dozen officers show how they were largely in the dark about what happened after one of their own, Sgt. Ronald Helus entered the building after sending the radio: “We got more people down. We need a lot of ambulances.”
Surveillance footage showed Helus and CHP officer Todd Barrett slowly entering the bar with raised arms and Helus with a flashlight over his rifle scanning the darkness. Long, who had been hiding in the office at the entrance, assaulted the men from and began firing from his .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol.
Barrett ran outside and started firing. Helus stumbled as he withdrew. As he got up, he was hit by a bullet that Barrett fired at Long.
Helus managed to roll up on his back and fire several shots as Long shot him five times while he was down. The forensic doctor, however, concluded that it was Barrett’s unintentional shot that killed the veteran officer.
Some of the body cameras captured the sporadic gunshots that broke out at the entrance to the bar.
Other cameras were either not turned on at the time of the shooting or were on officers arriving later.
In the silence that followed the shots, Sgt. Laura Natoli, who was standing behind bushes near the bar, noticed the smoke she could see inside the bar and said to a deputy, “I wonder if he took himself out.”
Shortly after, a man in a plaid shirt and ball cap, who had been the bar, emerged from the darkness behind a trash can and startled Natoli.
“Jesus, what are you guys doing?” she said.
The man said he was in the army and wanted to help. He said at least one, possibly two, officers were down.
“I saw him,” he said. “At the front door.”
Deputy Charles Gallagher, who was with Natoli, cursed.
“We have no other communication from people inside, that’s what I’m worried about,” Natoli said.
Meanwhile, behind a patrol vehicle in which Deputy Director Matthew Kahn had taken cover with another officer, a shotgun was on the ground and sounded as if he was drifting into unconsciousness while his teammates exerted pressure to stop the bleeding.
“Take me to the hospital,” said the man.
A woman reassured him: “They are on their way.”
Another officer who arrived told them they were to carry him to a staging post where ambulances arrived.
“He’s not going to make it by sitting here,” the officer said.
The man was carried to safety. He was the only shot victim who survived, Cmdr. said Jeff Miller.
At one point, Kahn, who had spoken to Barrett, could be heard saying that Helus had been shot. But his call was not forwarded, according to the report.
Miller said the news of Helus’ shooting was not widely disseminated.
“There was a lack of knowledge about Sgt. Helus was shot down for quite some time,” Miller said when asked about the recordings and radio calls.
Most of the newly released footage ends after Natoli has sent Deputy Steve Manley and another officer with combat rifles to the front of the bar to see if they can see signs of Helus.
Manley’s camera captures the barrel of his rifle as he moves in the shadows, ducking behind a low wall and bushes in front of the bar.
With his gun trained against the entrance area, he reported that there was no movement. Then a pop could be heard inside the building.
“I just had a shot,” he said on his radio – a transmission heard on the other videos.
The shot was long to take his own life, Miller said.
The videos ended there.