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'Ultimate sacrifice': Police officer’s desperate attempt to stop ex-Marine gunman

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Thirteen people have died, including a police officer and the gunman, after a shooting inside a crowded southern California bar.

A 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran opened fire in a country music bar packed with college students in California overnight, killing 12 people including a police officer who exchanged shots with the gunman, authorities.

Terrified patrons scrambled for the exits after the gunman started shooting a pistol in the Borderline Bar and Grill around 11:20 pm on Wednesday before killing himself, they said.

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County Sheriff Geoff Dean on California bar shooting
County Sheriff Geoff Dean on California bar shooting

"They ran out of the back doors, they broke windows. They went through windows. They hid up in the attic, they hid in the bathroom," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

Dean identified the suspect as Ian David Long, a Marine Corps veteran and resident of Thousand Oaks, an upscale city northwest of Los Angeles.

Police say Ian David Long, a Marine Corps veteran and resident of Thousand Oaks, was the shooter.
Police say Ian David Long, a Marine Corps veteran and resident of Thousand Oaks, was the shooter.
Supplied

According to the Pentagon, Long served in the Marine Corps from August 2008 to March 2013 and was a machine gunner.

He attained the rank of corporal and saw combat while deployed in Afghanistan from November 2010 to June 2011.

"He had perfect form," bar patron Teylor Whittler told Fox News. "He looked like he knew what he was doing."

Two women wearing blankets leave the area near the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California
EPA

Long was found dead in an office at the bar by police and is believed to have shot himself, Dean said.

Authorities so far had no indication of a motive, or of any connection to terrorism.

"We have no idea what the motive was at this time," Dean said.

Alexis Tait, who lost a friend in the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill cries with Rachel Berg.
Alexis Tait, who lost a friend in the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill cries with Rachel Berg.
AP

'Ultimate sacrifice' 

Among those killed was a three-decade veteran of the sheriff's department, 54-year-old Sergeant Ron Helus, who was married, had a grown son and was close to retirement. 

"He went in there to save people and made the ultimate sacrifice," Dean said.

Deputies embrace after the hearse carrying the body of Sergeant Ron Helus arrives at the medical examiner's office in Ventura, California.
Deputies embrace after the hearse carrying the body of Sergeant Ron Helus arrives at the medical examiner's office in Ventura, California.
AP

He said Helus was on the phone with his wife when he got the report of the shooting and he told her, "'Hey, I have to go. I love you. I'll talk to you later.'"

Helus and a highway patrol officer exchanged gunfire with Long, he said, and the sergeant was shot "several times."

Matt Wennerstrom, a 20-year-old college student, said the shooter apparently had a 10-15 round magazine on his gun.

"When (he) started to reload, that's when we got people out of there and I didn't look back," Wennerstrom said.

He said he and others smashed their way out of the bar onto a balcony and then jumped down to safety.

Jasmin Alexander, who was with around 15 friends at the bar, said there was chaos and confusion inside when shots rang out.

"We were just at the bar, having fun, dancing," she told reporters.

"All of a sudden we heard the 'bang, bang' of the gunshots and it just started going crazy and people were pushing.

"We didn't take it seriously at first... because it sounded like firecrackers and everyone just dropped down to the floor."

'Like hell'

The sheriff said Long drove to the bar and shot an unarmed security guard who was standing outside before opening fire at random inside.

Dean described the scene as "like hell."

He said his department had "several contacts" with Long over the years, for minor incidents including a traffic collision, and in 2015 when he was beaten up at a local bar.

In April this year, deputies were called to his house for a disturbance and found him "acting a little irrationally".

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Witnesses give account of California bar shooting
Witnesses give account of California bar shooting

"They felt he might be suffering from PTSD, the fact he was a veteran and had been in the Corps," Dean said. 

"They called out our crisis intervention team, our mental health specialists who met with him, talked to him, and cleared him."

Long was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he'd served as a machine gunner.
Long was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he'd served as a machine gunner.
Supplied

Dean said Long was armed with a single handgun, a .45 caliber Glock 21, which he purchased legally.

Among those killed was a three-decade veteran of the sheriff's department, 54-year-old Sergeant Ron Helus, who was married, had a grown son and was close to retirement. 

"He went in there to save people and made the ultimate sacrifice," Dean said.

 A man holds his head in his hands outside the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, following the shooting.
A man holds his head in his hands outside the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, following the shooting.
AP

He said Helus was on the phone with his wife when he got the report of the shooting and he told her "'Hey, I have to go. I love you. I'll talk to you later.'"

Helus and a highway patrol officer exchanged gunfire with Long, he said, and the sergeant was shot "several times."

'Sounded like firecrackers'

Around 15 people were also injured, the sheriff said, including several who were hurt "jumping out of windows, diving under tables".

Matt Wennerstron, a 20-year-old college student, said the shooter apparently had a 10-15 round magazine in his gun.

FBI and local officers at the scene, following the shooting which left 13 people dead.
FBI and local officers at the scene, following the shooting which left 13 people dead.
AP

"When (he) started to reload, that's when we got people out of there and I didn't look back," Wennerstron said.

He said he and others smashed their way out of the bar onto a balcony and then jumped down to safety.

Jasmin Alexander, who was with around 15 friends at the bar, said there was chaos and confusion inside when shots rang out.

"We were just at the bar, having fun, dancing," she told reporters.

"All of a sudden we heard the 'bang, bang' of the gunshots and it just started going crazy and people were pushing.

"We didn't take it seriously at first... because it sounded like firecrackers and everyone just dropped down to the floor."

TV footage showed SWAT teams surrounding the bar, with distraught revelers milling around and using their cell phones as lights from police cars flashed.

Ventura County Geoff Dean addresses the media about the mass shooting. A sheriff's deputy, 12 attendees and the gunmen were killed.
Ventura County Geoff Dean addresses the media about the mass shooting. A sheriff's deputy, 12 attendees and the gunmen were killed.
EPA

President Donald Trump tweeted that he had "been fully briefed on the terrible shooting," the latest chapter in America's epidemic of gun violence that came just 10 days after a gunman killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Trump ordered the US flag at the White House and other government buildings to be flown at half-staff.

Last year, a country music festival in Las Vegas was the scene of the worst mass shooting in modern US history. A gunman shooting from the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino with high power weapons killed 58 people.

With wires

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Veterans & Families Counselling (24/7): 1800 011 046 

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