A former U.S Marine opened fire in a California country music bar on Wednesday night, killing 12 people — including the sheriff’s sergeant who was the first to respond to the scene. Police said Ian David Long, 28, used a smoke device and a .45-caliber handgun to lay waste to the Borderline Bar & Grill, a popular hangout spot in Thousand Oaks for local college students before apparently taking his own life. According to authorities, Long had previously exhibited erratic behavior last spring due to what was thought to be post-traumatic stress disorder acquired during his years in the military.
Tayler Whitler, 19, told NBC’s Today show that she was on the dance floor with friends when “out of the blue, during the middle of a song, I heard gunshots coming from behind me.”
“I turned around and saw a guy standing in the door, gun in his hand, shooting,” the distraught teenager recalled. “I saw three people drop and by then I was halfway off the dancefloor. I jumped into a dogpile of people on the other side.”
The shooter, she continued, appeared to be focused purely on killing as many people as he could.
“He didn’t say anything. He wore all black. He had a black baseball cap … It looked like he knew exactly what he was doing,” said Whitler. The status of at least two of her friends, she added, was still unaccounted for.
“It seems like it didn’t really happen,” she admitted. “It feels surreal. Just thinking, this could never happen to me and then it happens. I’m just so shocked. It doesn’t feel real.”
Twelve people inside the bar, including the gunman, were found dead. Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who arrived at the club with a passing highway patrolman to respond to 911 calls, was reportedly shot as soon as he entered the club. The patrolman pulled Helus out, but Helus died of his wounds on Thursday at a hospital.
“There’s no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect,” said Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, noting that Helus, a longtime friend, had been set to retire on Friday. “He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price.”
Watch Whitler’s interview with Today below.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.