The sheriff’s sergeant who initially responded to last month’s mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, was fatally shot by gunfire from a California Highway Patrol officer, officials said Friday.
Sgt. Ron Helus was struck five times by gunfire from the suspect, Ian David Long, according to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, but was hit by a sixth bullet from a CHP officer’s rifle.
Helus could have potentially survived the five wounds from Long’s weapon, but the sixth bullet, fired by the CHP officer who entered the bar with Helus, proved fatal. It struck Helus in the chest and his heart, according to Dr. Christopher Young, the Ventura County medical examiner.
“This is sad news and a tragedy,” Young said, “but ultimately this was the most severe injury sustained.”
Young told reporters officials were aware of Helus’ injury but that they waited to release the information before getting confirmation from FBI ballistics analysis.
Helus, a 29-year law enforcement veteran, was set to retire from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office next year. He was among the first officers through the door at the Borderline when the shooting began November 7 and was shot as he tried to stop the gunman, who killed 11 others in the attack. Helus later died at a hospital.
Ayub said the accident was, in his view, “unavoidable.”
“They were ambushed almost immediately after entering,” Ayub said. “They retreated and tried to stop the suspect with their own gunfire. And unfortunately, it was dynamic, there was a lot of movement, there was smoke, it was dark.”
Helus and the CHP officer entered the bar at the same time, he said, but at some point, Helus ended up between the officer and the gunman.
But officials from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the CHP agreed the gunman was the only person responsible for the violence that unfolded that night.
“The burden lies solely with him,” Ayub said, “not those who tried to save lives, those who tried to escape and certainly not with those who died while simply trying to enjoy an evening with friends.
“It is also important to note that the news I have shared with you today in no way diminishes the heroic actions both men exhibited at the Borderline on the night of November 7.”
There’s no new information regarding a motive in the mass shooting, the sheriff said.
CHP officer is ‘devastated’
CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said in a statement the agency was “profoundly saddened” by the news.
“The mere thought of something like this happening is devastating to all of us and underscores the difficult and dangerous circumstances law enforcement faces, often with only mere seconds to react.”
Stanley extended condolences to Helus’ family, friends and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
“There are no words that can be expressed as to the incredible sorrow his family is dealing with,” he said.
LD Maples, CHP’s coastal division chief, said he delivered the news to the officer in question Thursday.
“He had no clue it was coming, was as surprised as all of us,” Maples said. “He’s devastated. He’s a consummate professional, well-trained, military background.”
The circumstances of the shooting are the focus of an ongoing investigation, officials said.