‘I hope people call me insane’: Social media posts, former teachers reveal alarming mind-set of Thousand Oaks gunman
A former U.S. Marine machine gunner who may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder burst into a Thousand Oaks bar packed with college students late Wednesday night, tossed a smoke bomb into the crowd and opened fire, authorities said.
A decade before he stormed a popular Thousand Oaks bar armed with a handgun this week, Ian David Long’s propensity for rage was well known to some of his teachers.
Evie Cluke, a former assistant track & field coach at Newbury Park High School, said the teenage Long was a volatile presence in the locker room and on the school’s grounds, prone to spasms of anger that often led to physical confrontations.
Long sometimes traded punches with rival athletes at track meets, said Cluke, who also once witnessed him assault another female coach at the school. At the end of Long’s sophomore year, she said, he gathered classmates around his new pickup truck and showed off what appeared to be a handgun.
“One of the students came running back and said he was showing them that he had a gun,” Cluke recalled. Standing about 40 yards away, Cluke said, she could see Long holding a small, black object against his chest that resembled a pistol.
By the time she alerted a supervisor, Long had driven off, she said. Confronted later, Long denied having a weapon and none of the students who had been near his truck would talk about it, she said.
When Long explained why he was joining the Marines after graduation, Cluke only became more unnerved. She recalled him telling her: “I want to go and fight for my country and kill for my country.”
“A statement like that sticks in your brain when you know a kid has issues that need to be addressed,” Cluke said.
As police continue to struggle to piece together a motive behind the massacre that left 12 other people dead inside the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, a troubling portrait of Long continued to emerge.
Those who knew Long before he served in the U.S. Marine Corps said he had proven to be short-tempered and aggressive prior to his military service. Long fought in Afghanistan and some have suggested post-traumatic stress disorder played a role in the shooting, but the allegations from Cluke and others suggest the gunman was prone to violence before joining the armed forces.
Even in his final moments, Long was making disturbing comments. On Friday, two law enforcement sources told The Times that Long was posting on Instagram in the moments before and during the shooting in Thousand Oaks.
In the posts, Long wrote that he hoped people would refer to him as “insane” and openly mocked the “thoughts and prayers” that are frequently offered in public statements and on social media after mass shootings, according to one of the officials.
“We can see it from the time stamps and other evidence as well what he was doing: He would fire shots, then go on the Instagram account,” said Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow, who was briefed on the social media evidence by investigators.
Long’s messages were publicly visible for hours before detectives located his account, alerted Instagram and asked the company to preserve the messages.
Long entered the bar, which was hosting a weekly promotion popular with college students, around 11:20 p.m. Wednesday and began shooting at people near the front door, authorities said.
Within minutes, Sgt. Ron Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer entered the bar and engaged in a firefight with Long, who was armed with a semi-automatic pistol.
Helus was shot several times and died at a hospital hours later. Long was found dead of a gunshot wound in the back of the bar, though it remains unclear if he took his own life or died after being shot by police.
Investigators have searched Long’s home and scoured his online writings, according to Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Garo Kuredjian, who warned that finding answers could take time. The crime scene alone could take several days to process, he said.
“If there is a motive, we can perhaps prevent something like this happening in the future,” Kuredjian said. “We owe it to the families that need an answer. We owe it to our sergeant’s family.”
While the investigation is ongoing, law enforcement officials told The Times it did not appear Long had any connection to known foreign or domestic terrorism or hate groups.
People who had lived with or knew Long said the gunman had problems with aggression and may have struggled with mental health issues after his discharge from the Marines in 2013.
Long lived with his mother, and neighbors said the two often engaged in screaming matches. In April, sheriff’s deputies went to the home in response to a disturbing the peace call. A crisis team sent as part of the response decided against detaining Long, though they discussed whether he might have PTSD, authorities said. It was not clear if Long was ever formally diagnosed with a mental health problem.
A representative of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said Long was never enrolled in any of the agency’s healthcare or treatment programs.
Area law enforcement officials said they had limited contact with Long outside of the April incident at his mother’s home. Long had also been the victim of a battery at another Ventura County bar several years ago, authorities said.
Miles Weiss, the chief Ventura County deputy district attorney overseeing criminal prosecutions, said his agency had no contact with Long as a witness, victim or suspect.
Cluke, the former high school track coach, said she considered Long to be a “ticking time bomb.” She and another assistant coach, Dominque Colell, recalled how Long attacked Colell during a dispute in 2008. Colell said she was trying to determine if Long owned a cellphone that had been found by another student, and he was shaking with rage.
“He started to grab at me,” she said. “He reached around and with one arm, groped my stomach. He grabbed my butt with the other arm.”
Colell said she reported the incident to school officials, who urged her to drop the issue to avoid jeopardizing Long’s dream of joining the military.
“He was very determined and very angry,” she said. “He was probably the only student that I was actually scared of when I coached there.”
Requests for comment from the Conejo Valley Unified School District were not returned late Thursday. The school’s offices were closed Friday due to the destructive Woolsey fire.
Cluke said she witnessed the attack on Colell, and chose to speak out now because she felt sickened by what her former colleague had endured in attempting to hold Long accountable.
“To be sexually violated and told by your bosses, ‘Get used to it’ ... it’s so wrong,” she said.
The coaches were particularly concerned about how he acted around women and young girls.
“If there was a female that he’d like, he’d say crass things to them. If they rejected him, he had a big issue,” Cluke said. On campus, Cluke said she saw Long “grope girls’ breasts or grab them in the behind.”
Cluke said she told her father, a staff member at the high school, and did her best to monitor Long herself. She felt that other staff members in positions of authority ignored Long’s behavior.
“They chalk it up to being a teenage boy,” she said. “He needed help back then, and nobody even thought to seek any help for him.”
Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.
7:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Sgt. Eric Buschow and additional comments from a former teacher.
5 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from another one of Long’s former teachers.
1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details on the social media posts reportedly published by Long and comments from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
This article first published at 12:50 p.m.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.