The bouncer was the first to fall, shot repeatedly by a black-clad gunman who targeted Borderline Bar and Grill for unknown reasons on a night when the pub was filled with college students who only wanted to dance and drink and laugh and flirt.
Matthew Curry heard the shots, four or five loud booms. Then the door opened and the shooter walked into the brightly lit pub and turned right and headed for the cash register and the woman behind it.
The next thing the 20-year-old Moorpark College student saw was simple and staggering: an arm, a gun, a blast of orange.
“I remember the charcoal dust and the orange gun blast,” Curry said. “I saw her body go down, and after that it was just mayhem.”
College Country Night at the Thousand Oaks bar had started out Wednesday as it always did, with country music and line-dancing lessons. Upward of 200 young people, many in cowboy boots and flannel shirts, jammed into the barn-like former steakhouse, with its pool tables, neon beer signs and exposed brick walls. Those underage had big black Xs on the backs of their hands to mark their alcohol-free status.
But at 11:20 p.m., Borderline exploded into carnage and mass confusion. Gunshots blasted. Men wailed. Women screamed. Someone called his girlfriend’s name, over and over. When the shooting stopped less than 15 minutes later, 13 people were dead, including the bouncer, Justin Meek, a recent college graduate who majored in criminal justice.
And Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year department veteran gunned down as he entered the bar in an effort to stop the violence. And Ian David Long, 28, the gunman, whose body was found in a pool of blood in the back room of the crowded nightspot.
It was unclear whether he killed himself with his .45-caliber Glock, which had been fitted with an extended magazine, or was shot to death by officers.
What is clear is that on Wednesday night, something else died along with the 12 victims and the shooter: a sense of safety and refuge cherished by residents of this Ventura County suburb, by students at the region’s colleges and by their parents.
This is how 19-year-old Erika Sigman put it, not long after she escaped from Borderline during a lull in the gunfire: “This is a safe place. My parents let me go here. This is a trusted place. 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.”
Sigman, a Cal State Channel Islands student, and her friends had been celebrating a birthday when gunshots cracked through the busy bar. They dropped to the floor, hid beneath barstools, saw a smoke bomb poised to go off. When the first rounds of gunfire subsided, Sigman fled through the front door, raced down the parking lot and hid behind cars with terrified strangers.
“We were scared he would come to the parking lot, because, what then?” she said, her voice shaking. “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.”
Sigman was reunited with two of her friends. A third was carried off by “an amazing guy.” The friends are Borderline regulars. On this early morning, she said, they were all “just pretty shaken up. … I thought for a minute that I won’t make it out.”
When Long was firing into the crowded bar, Helus had been on the phone, chatting with his wife, Karen. Then the 911 calls began, dozens of them. “I gotta go handle a call,” Helus said before hanging up. “I love you. I’ll talk to you later.”
Helus and California Highway Patrol Officer Todd Barrett were the first authorities to arrive at Borderline. It was 11:22 p.m. Four minutes later, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said, they entered the smoky bar after hearing shots. The men exchanged gunfire with the suspect. Helus was hit repeatedly. Barrett managed to drag him out of the building.
The shooting continued.
Tim Dominguez, a Borderline regular, normally avoids the bar on Wednesday nights. All those college kids. But his 26-year-old son wanted to go, so the two men spent some time at the pool tables. They were just about to leave the nightspot, the door was a mere 10 feet away, people were line dancing in the cavernous space, and the two men heard the first shots.
The bouncer went down, the cashier was hit, Dominguez said, and the gunman “just kept on shooting.” When Long got to the bar, he turned right.
“If he had taken a left, he would have shot my son and I, because that’s where we were,” Dominguez said. “He was a quick shot. He was good at it. Like he knew what he was doing.”
As Long moved farther through Borderline, Dominguez and his son made a break for it. As they ran out, they told people to get down.
“When we got outside, we kept hearing the shots: ‘Pop! Pop! Pop!’ ” he said. “I feel guilty that I left. That guilt that I could have done something more.”
Chyanne Worrell, Nellie Wong and three of their friends were celebrating Wong’s 21st birthday at Borderline on Wednesday night. The outing was a surprise for the Cal State Channel Islands student from Anaheim, who was decked out in a bright pink cowboy hat and a “Happy Birthday” sash.
When the shooting started, the five friends lost one another in the chaos, as the smoke bomb went off and people raced for cover. Some of the terrified patrons hid out in restrooms, furiously texting friends and family members. Others dived for cover under tables, or sprinted for the attic, or smashed windows out with barstools so they could jump to safety.
Wong hid behind tables and barstools at the back of the club. As the room filled with smoke, she tried to stop breathing and squeezed her nose closed with her hand.
Worrell, hiding under a table, heard a voice instructing her to run.
“By the grace of God,” the 19-year-old said later, “I was able to make it out.”
But Wong remained hidden behind a half wall in the back of the building until law enforcement agents helped her out. The five friends were eventually reunited, but the wait, Worrell said, “felt like forever. … We were worried sick.”
The Borderline was a second home to Wong, Worrell and many of their friends. Although their immediate group made it out just fine, other friends were still unaccounted for. They knew, as they waited, that at least 11 people had been killed. Just before 5:30 a.m., as they headed for home, one pal was still unaccounted for.
His name was Cody Coffman, and he had just turned 22.
Coffman loved to line dance, donned his cowboy boots and hit the floor at least once a week. On Wednesday night, when he left his family’s home in Camarillo, he was wearing a brand new pair of pants he’d bought just to go with the boots. The last thing his father, Jason, said to Coffman as the young man headed for the Borderline was, “I love you, son.”
Around 1 a.m., Jason Coffman was awakened by loud banging at his front door. He thought it was the police. But it was his son’s friends, and they had bad news. A gunman had opened fire at the bar. They were able to get out, but they hadn’t heard from Cody. He’d gone to get a round of drinks and they hadn’t seen him since.
The 41-year-old rang his son’s cellphone, but Cody didn’t answer. Jason headed to the Thousand Oaks Teen Center to search for his son. No luck. He reported Cody missing and waited. It was 4 a.m.
Four hours later, they learned the terrible news. Cody, who loved sports and hoped to join the Army, had been pronounced dead at the scene.
“I cannot believe that it’s happened to my family,” Jason said. “I don’t know how to console or what to say to the other people who are going to go through the same thing as I am. I am so sorry for them. I am speechless and heartbroken.”
The wait was awful. The final news was worse. Jason Coffman wasn’t the only family member to learn this first hand.
Adam Housley, a former correspondent for Fox News, arrived at Los Robles Regional Medical Center at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, searching for his niece. But the hospital was on lockdown, and the guard wouldn’t let him in.
Alaina, an 18-year-old Pepperdine University freshman, was at the bar with several friends, he said. Her Apple Watch and iPhone showed her location as being on the Borderline dance floor. Housley’s family is small and tightknit, he said, and they were desperate for news.
“My gut is saying she’s inside the bar, dead,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m wrong.”
Housley said he knew the grim reality of being a journalist on the scene after a mass shooting, saying: “You just don’t think that — same stupid quote — you just don’t think this is going to happen to you.”
On Twitter, Housely asked people to pray for Alaina, “a beautiful soul.” His wife, TV personality Tamera Mowry-Housley, had been searching since the early hours, when a friend of the young woman posted photos of Alaina asking for the public to help find her.
“Ashley this is her aunt Tamera Mowry Housley. Can you please DM me your information?” she responded in the tweet.
But Alaina’s friends were in the hospital, being treated for wounds they suffered from jumping through a broken glass window to escape from the gunman.
By midday, Alaina’s grieving aunt and uncle confirmed the terrible news in a joint statement after hours spent searching for their niece.
“Our hearts are broken,” they said. “Alaina was an incredible young woman with so much life ahead of her and we are devastated that her life was cut short in this manner.”