Mass shooting at California country and western bar

Twelve people have been killed in southern California after a gunman opened fire in a crowded bar.

Officials identified the gunman as former US marine Ian David Long, 28. Long was found dead inside the bar, the Ventura county sheriff Geoff Dean said. Authorities believe he shot and killed himself.

A sheriff’s deputy, Sergeant Ron Helus, was among the victims, the Ventura county sheriff’s department said. As many as 16 people were injured.

Hundreds of people were at the Borderline Bar and Grill, in Thousand Oaks, near Los Angeles, on Wednesday night when the shooter entered and opened fire. Witnesses reported using barstools to break windows in a desperate attempt to escape. Sheriff Dean described a traumatic scene.

“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said. “There’s blood everywhere.”

Dean said a mental health crisis team had been called to Long’s home in April after he was found to be acting “irate” and “a little irrationally”. He was not taken into custody at that time.

Dean said Long used a legally purchased .45 caliber Glock during the shooting. Long was a veteran who had served in the United States Marine Corps from 2008 to 2013.

Donald Trump tweeted that he had been “fully briefed” on the shooting, and praised the “great bravery shown by police”. The Thousand Oaks shooting comes 11 days after after 11 people were shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Long, wearing a black sweatshirt, shot a security guard who was standing outside the Borderline before entering and shooting several other employees of the bar, Dean said.

He said Long had no connection to the Borderline bar, and authorities had been unable to find a motive. Long was “the victim of a battery” at a different bar in Thousand Oaks in January 2015, Dean said. Long also had two minor traffic citations in recent years.

Women who fled from the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

Women who fled from the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA

Sheriffs responded to 911 calls at about 11.20pm. Sgt Helus, a 29-year veteran of the force, entered the bar with a highway patrolman and “immediately exchanged gunfire with the suspect”, Dean said.

Helus was shot several times before being pulled out of the bar by the highway patrolman, who has not been named, and taken to a nearby hospital.

“There’s no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect,” Dean said. “It could have been much, much worse.”

Helus, who had planned to retire in the next year, died early on Thursday morning. Sheriffs were planning a procession to transport Helus’s body from Los Robles hospital in Thousand Oaks to the examiner’s office in Ventura at 10am local time.

“It saddens us all and tears at our emotions. He died a hero. He went in to save lives, to save other people,” Dean said.

Witnesses described a scene of panic inside the packed bar.

Teylor Whittler said after bar-goers heard shots, “within a split second, everyone yelled, ‘Get down’”.

She said: “I ran to the left of the dance floor and got down and everyone piled on top of each other. It was silent for a couple of seconds and a couple of guys ran towards the back of the club and said, ‘Get up, he’s coming’. I stumbled and a guy grabbed me, pulled me up and said, ‘Let’s go’. A bar stool hit me in the head as someone was throwing it at a window.”

As many as 16 people were injured in the frantic effort to escape, Dean said. One of those may have suffered a gunshot wound.

The Borderline holds a College Country Night on Wednesdays, according to its website. The event runs from 9pm to 2am and people aged 18 and over are able to attend – the drinking age is 21 in California.

Pepperdine University, a private college about 20 miles south-west of Borderline, said “multiple” students were at the bar.

“The university is working to identify and provide support to those students,” Pepperdine said on Twitter. “The University offers its deepest condolences and is praying for everyone involved in tonight’s tragic events.”