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Thousand Oaks reels from twin tragedies: a mass shooting and a destructive wildfire

Thousand Oaks reels from twin tragedies: a mass shooting and a destructive wildfire
Maria Narvaez carries clothing as she leaves her home on Almon Drive near Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks on Friday morning. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It had been a hellish 24 hours for the Thousand Oaks resident Melissa Snyder. A close family friend, Noel Sparks, 21, was killed in the shooting Wednesday night at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

Snyder had known Sparks since she was a baby and could barely make sense of the tragedy, which unfolded minutes from her home in the Hillcrest neighborhood.

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Friday morning, Snyder stood in her robe in a Woodland Hills parking lot outside a Manhattan Bagels shop surrounded by her husband and five of her kids.

They left their home in the middle of the night as the Woolsey fire crept closer and a mandatory order came in.

Her daughter Kaylee got a frantic call from her friend Madison that they needed to get moving.

It was that kind of day in Thousand Oaks. Just hours after the community was staggered by the news of the shooting at a popular bar that killed 12 people, it was faced with a destructive wildfire that forced massive evacuations.

At a memorial for the victims Thursday afternoon, smoke from the fire was visible.

As many at the vigil embraced or cried softly, several cellphones buzzed in unison, setting off a sigh in the crowd. It was a warning about the ominous orange smoke rising in the sky outside. “Emergency Alert,” the message read, “VC Sheriff - Fast moving brush fire.”

Later in the night, many would be evacuated.

Areas placed under mandatory evacuation included the entire communities of Oak Park and Westlake Village, and portions of Thousand Oaks, from Thousand Oaks Boulevard north to Sunset Hills and from Oak Park west to Highway 23. Previous evacuation orders remain in place for Saddlebow Road in Bell Canyon.

Kaylee described the early morning drive south on the 101 as “like you were leaving hell.” Her dad Steve said the highway was “crowded for 3 a.m. but it still was moving.”

Kaylee, 16, had attended a vigil at the Calvary Church and said “it started smelling like smoke during the service.”

“I’m confused and overwhelmed,” she said.

Austin, 8, ran around with a cinnamon bagel in his mouth and cream cheese all over his face, talking a mile a minute.

Melissa forced a smile and a laugh as she watched her kids play and contemplated when they might make their way home. They think their house survived.

“We didn’t get over the one tragedy until the next thing started,” Melissa said, a tired look on her face.

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Steve said their nerves were somewhat frayed from a lack of sleep. As news of the Borderline tragedy broke, they weren’t sure whether the shooter had been apprehended. They thought he might be in their neighborhood and stood by the door just in case.

“It’s been two nights of no sleep,” he said, standing next to the family van.

“That would be awesome if we could get home today.”

The scene at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center reflected the painful experiences residents endured over the last 24 hours.

The center was where family and friends of those missing from the Borderline shooting came to await word about their fates. Many left with the worst news of their lives — that their loved ones had died. Now the sprawling center is being used as a shelter for evacuees from the fire. Some don’t know if they’ll have a house to return to.

Judy Goodman, 70, of Westlake Hills said she heard a loud crash in her living room around 1 a.m. Friday. She found shattered pieces of glass all over her home and was stunned to discover a tree had crashed through her roof. “The winds were so strong,” she said.

A few minutes later she heard a pounding on her door. It was police officers telling her to leave. The fire was dangerously close to her home. Goodman grabbed some socks, her dog and a few pictures and put them in the car and drove to teen center.

“It’s just one thing after another. I was crying all day yesterday because of the shooting and now this happens,” she said. Goodman was thankful she found a safe place to rest but was distraught when she learned it’s where people had found out the day before that their loved ones had died.

“I can’t believe it,” she said.

11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with reporting from the Thousand Oaks Teen Center.

This article was originally published at 11 a.m.

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