‘I saw a handgun face everyone on the dance floor’: Scenes of survival, heroism inside Borderline

Harrison King, 24, and Alexis Tait, 23, stand on the roadside as a hearse carrying the body of Ventura County sheriff's Sgt. Ron Helus leaves in a procession. King and Tait escaped the shooting at Borderline, but one of their friends was killed.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

On the evening of Nov. 7, Borderline Bar and Grill transformed from a neighborhood bar in Thousand Oaks into the site of a gunman's rampage. About 170 people who were at the bar survived by fleeing through emergency exits, leaping through shattered windows or hiding while listening to the gunman kill others.

These are their stories.

The dance floor

Minutes before the shooting, the dance floor at Borderline Bar and Grill filled with people doing a line dance called “Askin’ Questions” as “Turn Up the Music” by Chris Brown began to play.

Point, kick, point, kick, turn. Point, kick, point, kick, turn.

Katie Wilkie, 24, assumed her favorite spot, near the front of the dance floor by the emergency exit. The song was about halfway through when she heard gunshots and looked over. Ian Long had started firing and was headed toward the crowd.

“I saw a handgun face everyone on the dance floor,” she said.

Wilkie hid behind a large speaker, then tried to join a flood of people headed to the nearby exit. But so many customers were frantically trying to escape that she was pushed up against bar stools stacked next to a wall. Eventually, she made it out.

It was Alexis Tait, 23, who had asked the DJ to play Chris Brown, her boyfriend’s favorite artist. The two had arrived at the bar around 9:30 p.m. after a joint birthday dinner with their families.

While on the dance floor, Tait, who lives in Simi Valley, usually kept one eye on the door, where her friend Kristina Morisette worked the cash register.

“She’ll always give me nasty looks or flip me off or stick her tongue out at me,” Tait said. “I was giving her one back and laughing with her, and I was looking at the front door because somebody walked in. ... I just froze.”

Long entered the bar and shot and killed her friend.

Tait and her boyfriend, Harrison King, raced to the emergency exit. King, 24, steered people out the door while listening to the continued blasts of gunshots coming from inside. He bolted after 30 seconds.

“That’s when I finally ran out, I was like, ‘OK, it’s time for me to go,’” he said.

King and Tait clambered up a nearby hill, where several people, including Wilkie, had scrambled to safety.

Borderline shooting survivors
Katie Wilkie and Justin Veditz, survivors of the Bordeline Bar and Grill shooting, embrace each other. Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

The phone call

Kelsey Lewis, who was DJing that night, escaped through a broken window and called her parents.

On the phone, her father, Kyle Lewis, heard gunshots like the ones he heard when she called him last year during the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Then, she had told her dad that people were getting hit next to her as she sprinted to safety.

As she stood outside Borderline, she told her parents her friends were still inside. They told her to run. Soon after, her mom, Kathy, called Borderline to see if someone was inside the office who needed help. Her husband was beside her, listening as the phone rang and someone picked up and stayed silent.

“Hello,” she said. He greeted her hello and then stayed quiet.

“Are you guys open today?” she asked, trying to draw out the phone call.

“What?” he responded. He then said yes. When she asked how late they were open, he hung up.

“I was irate,” Kyle Lewis said in an interview. “I was like, ‘That’s him.’”

The couple later recounted the conversation to the FBI.

The windows

Bryce Viole, a football player at Moorpark College, ran through a glass window when he saw Long approach, shattering it with the force of his body. He fell six feet to the ground, landing on his head. He then helped two women jump out the window after him.

"My football coach is always telling me, 'Don't lead with your head,' but this time it worked," said Viole, 20.

Viole, who lives in Agoura Hills, crossed his arms in front of his face when he smashed the glass. His hands and wrists were so badly gashed that the bone was visible. He needed 75 stitches.

Bryce Viole
Bryce Viole used his body to break a window and then jumped out of it to escape the carnage at Borderline Bar and Grill. Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Many used bar stools to bust open windows. Dan Ceco, who worked at the bar until about a year ago, punched a window facing the 101 Freeway. He threw people out of it before jumping out himself. He does not remember breaking the window, but friends told him they saw him do it.

Once outside the bar, someone pointed out that Ceco’s wrist was bleeding. He drove to the hospital, hitting 90 mph, and received stitches.

The bar counter

Steve Campbell, 32, wedged himself into a small space near the edge of the bar counter. A young woman took cover beneath his legs.

The two shielded themselves from view with a serving tray, while smoke bombs provided extra cover. They heard a rapid sequence of gunshots, then silence.

The only thing Campbell could see were muzzle flashes from Long’s pistol. At one point, the pair listened as the shooter walked behind the bar counter. Campbell struggled to keep his phone from loudly vibrating against a bucket near him.

“You could hear his footsteps every time he comes through,” Campbell said. “You just prepare yourself to die.”

Steve Campbell
Steve Campbell escaped Borderline Bar and Grill by hiding from the gunman with a young woman. Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Dylan Short, who had been sitting at the bar with a friend when Long entered, felt a bullet skim his back as he tried to take cover.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” he thought, before leaping out a window his friend had smashed. His shoes came off as he fled and he sped away in his truck without them, running red lights as he drove to another nearby bar.

Short, who was bleeding badly, ran up to the doorman at the Tipsy Goat to warn him that a shooter had targeted Borderline. He was worried this bar would be next. Short’s bloodied appearance probably caused confusion about shootings at multiple bars.

The attic

Trying their best to stay quiet, seven people sought refuge in the bar’s attic, which was filled with insulation and air conditioning units.

Bartender Bobby Langin Jr. and the bar manager lay next to the opening, at one point holding hands. Langin armed himself with a piece of plywood and watched the shadows through the door, fearful that every shot that went off was Long finding someone hidden and killing them.

Langin could hear the shooter’s footsteps and at one point what sounded like a struggle. The bartender was determined not to go down without a fight.

“I could either let him come up and kill every one of us or I can jump on him,” Langin thought.

Langin and the bar manager ushered Lindsey Scheivert, 24, and her boyfriend into the attic. Scheivert had been frozen on the floor of the storeroom until the bar manager persuaded her to get up.

“They were more concerned about our safety than their own,” Scheivert said.

At one point, those in the attic clambered on top of air conditioning units, worried that Long would shoot at the ceiling. For nearly two hours, they waited, listening as the police went in and yelled at the shooter and later as Long turned the gun on himself.

An additional 30 minutes passed before a SWAT team arrived and brought them down. The officers tried to create a wall with their bodies to block the survivors from seeing what had happened inside the bar.

Still, they could see what had happened while they were hiding: trails of blood in every direction and articles of clothing that had been left behind.

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