Sergeant Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office was one of the first officers to enter the Southern California bar where a gunman opened fire on revelers attending a weekly college night event.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said Helus was struck multiple times by gunfire as he confronted the shooter.
The sheriff said a highway patrolman pulled out Helus and waited for a SWAT team as scores of other officers converged on the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks.
By the time they entered the bar again, the gunfire had stopped, and they found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman. He says Helus was later declared dead at a hospital.
“He was willing to sacrifice his life to save others,” Dean said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show. “He ran into danger, he didn’t walk. He ran into danger hoping that he might be able to save someone else’s life. And he made the ultimate sacrifice, but he did it as a hero.”
Helus was a 29-year veteran of the sheriff’s department and was about a year away from retirement, Dean said. Helus, of Moorpark, leaves a wife and son.
“I told his wife he died a hero,” Dean said, choking back tears. “He went in to save lives, to save people.”
The sheriff said Helus was a longtime friend and his gym partner. Dean described Helus as hardworking and a dedicated sheriff’s sergeant.
“He was totally committed. He gave his all. And tonight, he died a hero,” Dean said at an early morning news conference. “There is just no way to describe this. It saddens us all and it tears at our hearts,” he added.
The shooting began about 11:15 p.m. at the Borderline Bar & Grill, said Capt. Garo Karedjian, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities said the hooded gunman, wearing all black with his face partly covered, deployed a smoke device and used a handgun when he opened fire on the crowd. Many of the attendees came from local colleges such as Pepperdine, Moorpark and Cal State Channel Islands.
Terrified revelers used barstools to break through windows and jump to safety to escape the dance bar while others ducked under tables to dodge the fusillade.
“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said. “There’s blood everywhere.”
Sgt. Helus and a passing highway patrolman were responding to several 911 calls when they arrived at the dance bar at about 11:20 p.m., the Sheriff Dean said. They heard gunfire and went inside. Helus was shot and killed.
Dean said Helus was on the phone with his wife, “as he does several times during a shift,” when he received the call to respond to the shooting.
“He said to her ‘hey, I gotta go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later,'” Dean said.