Josh Coaly got an ominous text just before midnight from the Borderline Bar & Grill: There had been a mass shooting.
The 27-year-old immediately started scrambling for the names of people he knew who might be in the bar, which he described as having pool tables and an open dance floor with line dancing and two-stepping.
Coaly has been to the bar many times with his friends. The friend he got the text from was also in Las Vegas last year when Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Coaly said he talked to his friend, who told him he was with his father, was fine and was trying to help other friends.
“I just came to see if there’s anything I can do,” Coaly said as he stood in the sidewalk, watching the scene unfold in the darkness.
Witnesses said there were hundreds of people in the bar at the time of the shooting. Teylor Whittler, 19, said she was there to help celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday. She said she initially heard what sounded like firecrackers. Then she saw a man with a gun.
She said her group included 11 people. “We haven’t found half of them yet,” she said.
Her father kept Whittler company. He said he got a call at about 11:20 p.m. from an unknown number. It was his daughter. “There’s been a shooting, I’m ok. I’m hiding in the hills,” she said.
“I got dressed and was up here in about 10 minutes,” Chris Valenzano said. “I think there’s more anger than anything else. The fact that it happened so close to home, that definitely hurt.”
Officers took his daughter’s shirt when she walked out because it was covered in blood, he said.
“She has no idea whose,” Valenzano said.
Like many people, Matthew Wennerstrom, 20, had become a regular at the bar. On Wednesday, he got to the Borderline Bar & Grill at about 10:45 p.m., paid the $7 entrance fee and got an X marked on both hands to show he was still under 21.
It was college night and there were a lot of friends and familiar faces around. Wennerstrom had been there less than an hour when he heard the gunshots over the loud music.
“Those shots, you don’t mistake that for anything,” he said.
He was down the steps from the entrance and had a direct line of sight to the shooter, who he saw with a handgun. The shooter, a tall man, was about 35 feet across the room, Wennerstrom said.
The gunman opened fire on those standing at the front desk, he said.
Wennerstrom pulled as many people as he could under a pool table. Some people, men and women, helped others escape.
After hearing about a dozen gunshots, Wennerstrom and others made a break for the windows.
“All I could think about was how helpless I was,” he said.
People used barstools to break windows and escape. Gunshots started again and soon Wennerstrom was jumping out a window.
Once he got out and to a nearby gas station, he made sure people were sheltering behind a wall. He saw men struggling to carry a man who was bleeding.
“We just ran over there and stepped in,” he said.
When he turns 21, Wennerstrom said, he’s getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
“So that I can protect my friends and my family from something like this,” he said as he stood on Moorpark Road, his breath fogging the air in the chilly morning darkness. “Because I don’t think this will be the last.”
As he waited, he spoke to his mother and tried to assure her he was safe.
“There was a shooting at Borderline, I’m OK,” he told her at 2:40 a.m. “I’m completely uninjured. We got as many people out as we could.”
All along the road, cars tried to make it up the road as people searched for loved ones. Deputies turned them back.
“My son is there, I have to find my son,” a woman shouted as she ran down the street before being stopped by a sheriff’s deputy.
Erika Sigman, 19, also said she heard something go off and realized it wasn’t the music. She heard people scream to get down and heard people say “Run!”
She and her friends immediately dropped to the floor, hiding beneath their barstools. A friend warned her of what seemed to be a smoke bomb that was about to go off.
Before a second round of gunfire, she ran through the front door of the bar, down the parking lot and to her car. She hid behind cars with strangers.
“We were scared he would come to the parking lot because what then?” she said, her voice shaky. “Cops finally came and one of the cops ran across the parking lot to tell us what to do. It was still an active shooter.”
She was reunited with two of her friends shortly after. She watched as another was carried by “an amazing guy.”
“We’re all OK — little stumbles and scratches here and there,” Sigman said.
“This is a safe place. My parents let me go here. This is a trusted place,” the Cal State Channel Islands student added. “To know that this happened in my safe place is a very, very scary thing. You just don’t expect it to happen in Thousand Oaks.”
Savannah Stafseth stood outside crying. She was on the patio when the shooting happened.
“It’s college night. It was insanely crowded,” she said.
She heard, “Get down, get down!” Then she heard shots.
“It was rapid, really loud. Just one after another,” she said. A man got her out through a window. She has a couple of cuts on her arms from her escape.
“There are no words. Those are my people. It’s just not fair. It’s not fair,” Stafseth said. “All these people after Route 91. It’s not fair.”
Nellie Wong, a college student from Anaheim, was here celebrating her birthday. The 21-year-old wore brown cowboy boots and a denim jacket to the bar. Her knees are scraped from a fall she took as she scrambled for shelter. She was at a table by herself when she heard the gunshots.
Wong grabbed her jacket, ran, stumbled and hid near the barstools.
She saw smoke, and then she saw who she thought was the shooter, dressed in a black hoodie, black shirt, black pants and a black scarf over his face.
“Thank goodness he didn’t see me at all. I immediately stopped moving, stopped breathing,” Wong said. “My heart was pumping really fast.”
Her friend Chyanne Worrell, 19, said she hid under a table. She heard a voice instructing her to run. "By the grace of God, I was able to make it out," she said.
Wong remained in the bar, hidden behind a half wall in the back until the police came and helped her out.
Worrell said "it felt like forever" before the five friends were reunited. "We were just worried sick.”
By then, the friends already knew that at least 11 people were killed inside the club.
One friend went home hours ago, but Worrell, Wong and two others remained. They were waiting for two guy friends who were inside. Just before 5:30 a.m., they were still waiting for word from one, Cody Coffman, 22, as they walked down the street to go home.
Times staff writers Sarah Parvini and Sean Greene contributed to this report.