Twelve people have been killed after a gunman opened fire in a bar and restaurant in California that was packed with teenagers.
Terrified people inside Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks hid under tables or dived out windows during the shooting which happened on a college night at roughly 11.20pm on Wednesday.
Sergeant Ron Helus was shot by the trenchcoat-wearing gunman, who was armed with a semi-automatic weapon, and died at a nearby hospital.
He was a 29-year veteran of the force and planned to retire next year. The gunman, dressed in black, was shot and killed inside the bar.
One witness told ABC7 that the gunman walked up to a security guard shot him before entering the restaurant and opening fire at random.
He also threw smoke grenades around the dance floor area which was said to be ‘very crowded’. Police have not confirmed the use of smoke devices.
Between 10 and 20 people are also injured, on top of the 12 killed (not including the gunman).
Ventura Country deputy Geoff Dean said of his dead colleague: “He died a hero. He went in to save lives, to save other people.”
He added that he had no reason to believe that there was a link to terrorism, “but we certainly will look at that option.”
A man being interviewed by local ABC station said he had multiple friends at Borderline who are survivors of the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas just over a year ago.
As officers were responding there were additional reports of gunfire. At least 100 people were at the venue last night.
Mitchell Hunter, 19, was pictured near the scene with bloodied hands after he broke a chair with a window when he heard shots on the dancefloor.
One witness said: “I saw one person shot. It was a hand gun but the guy was throwing smoke grenades.”
He added: “People are hitting the deck, running, getting out of any window they could.
“I was one of three people who got out the front door and I don’t know how we got out the front door.”
Some revellers who had hid in the attic to get away from the rampaging gunman have made themselves known to police with the scene now secure.
Another witness inside said: “The gunman walked in and had like a sub machine gun with a big ass magazine. He started popping off and everyone ducked down.
“He started throwing smoke grenades. People just started jumping out of windows.
“My friend got hit. It went through his shoulder.
“We were behind a barrier and then he popped off another 30 rounds. The cops came and dragged everyone out.
“He had black hair and a black trenchcoat.”
Student Teylor Whittler, whose dad was in the military and had trained her for an active shooter situation, said: “I was on the dance floor and had some friends at a table.
“I heard gunshots turned around and saw him shoot. Everyone yelled ‘get down!’.
“I ran to the left of the dance floor and everyone piled on top of each other. It was silent for a couple of seconds and all of a sudden guys said ‘get up he’s coming’. There was a huge panic. Everyone tried getting out.
“I fell a couple of times and a guy came behind me and said ‘come on let’s go’. I had a bar stall hit my head as people were trying to break windows.
“We ran to the top of the hill and I heard gunfire again.
“The gunman had a semi-automatic pistol. He changed rounds in six seconds, so pretty fast. He knew what he was doing. He also had perfect form. He was spot on.
“It looked like he was wearing a ski mask over his face with a black baseball cap. Everyone ran and dropped. There was some screaming but not too much. It was sheer panic.”
Officers on the scene indicated that approximately 30 shots had been fired and that victims would be at multiple scenes as they fled.
SWAT police were pictured attempting to surround the restaurant and a bomb squad was requested.
Police reported that a California Highway Patrol officer had engaged a suspect. At the incident deputies, yelled at bystanders to stay away.
“Active shooter! Get back!” a deputy yelled.
At least four ambulances were called to the scene to treat multiple victims, according to the Ventura County Star.
Victims ran to a nearby petrol station to get medical help. Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to the incident at 99 Rolling Oaks Drive around 11.30pm local time.
It had been a college country night at the venue, which is popular for line dancing events.
The website for Borderline showed that Wednesday nights are College Country Nights that last from 9pm until 2am.
The bar is described as the county’s.
Borderline also has pool tables, games and flat-screen TVs, the website said.
Thousand Oaks has a low crime rate and is considered one of the safest cities in America.