Twelve people have died after a former US Marine armed with smoke grenades and a handgun opened fire at a bar and grill in California.
The attacker entered Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks and started shooting at around 11.20pm on Wednesday.
Ventura County sheriff Geoff Dean named the gunman as 28-year-old Ian David Long – a veteran of the US Marine Corps who was believed to be suffering with PTSD.
He drove to the bar wearing a black sweatshirt and entered with a Glock .45 handgun which he purchased legally. It was customised with an extended magazine.
It was not clear how many rounds he shot or whether or not he reloaded, but police have started piecing the massacre together.
Long shot a security guard outside the bar before stepping inside, turning right to shoot at employees and opening fire at crowds inside.
Among those shot was father and husband Ron Helus – a 29-year veteran of the department – who the sheriff said “died a hero trying to save lives”.
Helus was on the phone to his wife when he got the call to respond to the incident.
First victim identified: Sergeant Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff Dean said: “Helus was having a conversation with his wife when he said, ‘Hey I’ve got to respond to a call. I gotta go. I love you’.”
When he entered the bar, Helus engaged the gunman, but was shot.
Long’s body was later found in an office near the entrance to the bar when police re-entered. Sheriff Dean said he believes Long shot himself.
There were no clues as to a motive on Thursday afternoon, but Long had been visited as recently as April by mental health experts after he had an episode of erratic behavior that was thought to be post-traumatic stress disorder because of his military background.
In January 2015, Long was the victim of battery at another bar in Thousand Oaks.
Police said there was no correlation between the Borderline Bar & Grill and Long.
Neighbours said the 28-year-old went by his middle name, according to ABC News. Police are reported to have raided his home early on Thursday morning.
Witnesses say a man fired several shots from a handgun before tossing smoke bombs into a crowded bar in Southern California early Thursday.
People comfort each other as they stand near the scene Credit: Mark J Terrill/AP
Sheriff Dean says around 15 other people were shot and wounded. No other information on the victims was immediately known.
A man who says he was in the bar told ABC News that he saw a man shoot into the crowd of customers – many of whom were said to be students.
Police told the Los Angeles Times that at least 30 shots were fired and the paper reported that people had been hit.
A spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Captain Garo Kuredjian said the gunman had been confined inside the premises for the duration of the attack.
Kuredijan told reporters when officers arrived at the bar to reports of shots being fired, they could hear gunfire.
Police work in the area after a gunman opened fire late Wednesday at a Thousand Oaks bar Credit: Los Angeles Times/Getty
He added that hundreds of people were inside the bar. It was college night and country two-step lessons were being offered Wednesday at the Borderline – a country-and-western bar – according to its website.
Nick Steinwender, student body president at nearby California Lutheran University, rushed to the scene when he heard about a shooting at the bar where he knew friends and fellow students were inside.
“It was chaos, people jumping out of windows, people hopping over gates to get out” Steinwender told KABC-TV.
He said he heard from people inside that they were hiding in bathrooms and the attic of the bar.
US fire department officials reported multiple injuries in the shooting at the bar and dance hall, which is some 40 miles from Los Angeles.
The Ventura County Fire Department said: “Firefighters and first responders are arriving on scene of a report of a shooting at an establishment in Thousand Oaks. Police Department is working to secure scene. Multiple injuries reported.”
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the US since 17 students and teachers were killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
That, in turn, closely followed the series of pipe bombs mailed to critics of President Donald Trump.
Trump praised police for their “great bravery” in the California attack and said, “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.” He ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in honor of the victims.