A California sheriff’s deputy, who was planning to retire from the force in the next year, raced directly into the mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks club on Wednesday night to try to stop the slaughter of a young crowd at a country-music dance.
As he burst into the Borderline Bar & Grill, Sgt. Ron Helus reportedly was faced with a barrage of gunfire. He was said to be hit multiple times by a gunman who has been identified as Ian Long.
The 29-year Ventura County Sheriff’s Office veteran made it as far as the local hospital, but did not survive his injuries.
Sheriff Geoff Dean, who was a close friend of Helus, broke down as he explained what had just unfolded at an early-morning press conference outside Los Angeles.
“Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant. He was totally committed, he gave his all and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero; he went into save lives, to save other people,” he said. “There’s just no way to describe this. It saddens us all and it tears at our hearts.”
Helus was on the phone with his wife when the call about the shooting came in. Dean said his colleague had hung up saying: “Hey, I gotta go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later.”
Helus, 54, who lived in Moorpark, California, was dreaming of retirement from the sheriff’s office and going back to studying.
The firearms expert already had a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and wrote on his LinkedIn page that he planned “to pursue my doctorate degree in the near future.”
When off-duty, he trained people to use firearms and instructed them for concealed-carry weapons permits and loved to get out into the woods for fishing trips, according to his Facebook page. The page is dominated by beautiful, rugged images of wildlife, mountaintops, and his only son.
On Wednesday night, the SWAT team veteran arrived on the scene of the shooting about two-and-a-half minutes after the first distress calls were made to authorities.
He got there at the same time as a California Highway Patrol officer, Sheriff Dean said. When they heard additional gunshots from inside the Borderline, where an 18 and over night was underway, it was Helus who plunged into the danger, leaving his colleague to secure the perimeter until backup units arrived.
By the time more law-enforcement officers arrived, it was too late for Helus and the 11 unarmed civilians who had been slain. Once inside, the additional officers also found the body of the gunman.
Dean said sheriffs, like so many police officers around the country, have been trained “to immediately engage the target and to stop the shooting” in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado, high-school shooting. “There is no doubt they saved lives by going.”
Around 1 p.m., Helus’ body was transported in a hearse from the hospital to the medical examiner's officer with a police escort. The White House lowered flags to half staff to honor him and the rest of the 11 people who were killed in the shooting.