Nov. 8 (UPI) -- A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps killed 12 people in a Los Angeles-area bar full of college students, Ventura County, Calif., Sheriff Geoff Dean said Thursday.
Investigators said the gunman, Ian David Long, 28, walked into the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday and started throwing smoke bombs and shooting into the crowd of patrons.
Dean said it appears Long shot himself. The weapon, a .45 caliber handgun, was purchased legally.
The shooting appeared to be random and didn't target specific people, Dean said. At least one person sustained a gunshot wound, Dean said.
The bar was hosting a college country night in which the young adults took line-dancing lessons. The special event was open to patrons as young as 18.
Another eight to 15 people were injured, mostly from jumping out of windows, getting trampled or cutting themselves on glass.
A Ventura County sheriff's deputy, who was among the first on the scene, was shot multiple times and died at the hospital.
"It was a horrific incident," Dean said. "It's part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere, and I think it's impossible to put any logic or sense to the senselessness. This community in my 41 years had never experienced anything like this."
Police estimated up to 200 people were inside the bar when the gunfire started.
"It could have been much, much worse," Dean said.
Witnesses said about 30 shots were fired in the bar. The shooter wore a black trench coat and eyeglasses to the bar, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, which has a large dance floor and regularly hosts large events.
Patrons described a chaotic scene of panic as they tried to escape the building or hide from the shooter. Others used chairs to break windows to escape.
"All of the sudden, you just hear, bang bang, bang," one witness said. "The music was still going. And then it just started going bang, bang, bang ... and everybody ducked down and started running."
"The gunman was throwing smoke grenades all over the place," another witness told KABC-TV. "I saw him point to the back of the cash register ... and he just kept firing. I ran out the front door. There was probably three or four [shots]."
Bar-goer Josh Coaly wasn't there during the shooting but showed up after to check on his friends. He said one of them had also been present at the country music festival in Las Vegas a year ago, when a gunman killed 58 people.
"I just came to see if there's anything I can do," Coaly said.
Another witness said the gunman shot people at close range.
The sheriff's deputy who died was identified as Sgt. Ron Helus a 29-year veteran of the sheriff's office and California Highway Patrol. Helus was set to retire next year.
"Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff's sergeant. He was totally committed, he gave his all and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero. He went in to save lies, to save other people," Dean said.
Residents of Thousand Oaks gathered along the streets Thursday afternoon as officials transported Helus' body from the hospital.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won Tuesday's election to be governor, ordered flags to be flown at half-staff.
"Last night's horrific shooting in Thousand Oaks is nothing short of a tragedy. Our hearts are with all those whose loved ones were stolen from them too soon, by yet another senseless act of gun violence," he said, calling Helus a "true hero."
"The gun violence that continues to plague our nation is beyond heartbreaking -- it's a societal failure. Simply saying, 'enough is enough,' is NOT enough. We must address the root causes of these devastating acts at every level of government," Newsom added.
President Donald Trump thanked first responders.
"Law enforcement and First Responders, together with the FBI are on the scene," Trump tweeted. "Great bravery shown by police. California Highway Patrol was on the scene within 3 minutes, with the first officer to enter shot numerous times. That Sheriff's Sergeant died in the hospital. God bless all of the victims and families of the victims. Thank you to law enforcement."
Pepperdine University tweeted that several students from the private Christian university were at the bar.
"At this time, the university is working to identify and provide support to those students. Pepperdine officials are working with authorities and will provide updates as more information is available. The university offers its deepest condolences and is praying for everyone involved," Pepperdine tweeted.
Police were called to Long's home in Newbury Park after on a "subject disturbing" call in April. Long, who attended Cal State Northridge, was placed on a mental health hold and may have had post-traumatic stress disorder.