LOS ANGELES -- (KTLA) -- A gunman opened fire in a packed bar in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday night, killing at least 12 people, including a sheriff's sergeant, and wounding others before he was found dead at the scene, according to Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean.
About 11:20 p.m., authorities received multiple 911 calls about shots being fired at the Borderline Bar & Grill, located at 99 Rolling Oaks Drive.
A sheriff's sergeant and two California Highway Patrol officers were the first to arrive on scene, responding within minutes, Dean said. After hearing gunshots, they decided to go into the restaurant.
Sgt. Ron Helus entered and was struck by multiple bullets, the sheriff said. The CHP officer went out and secured the perimeter until additional units arrived, then went to rescue Helus from the line of fire.
Additional units from multiple law enforcement agencies responded and made entry, where they found 11 victims killed inside.
The suspected shooter was also found dead, but it's unclear how he died.
“It's well too early to know if he took his own life,” the sheriff said.
The sergeant died at a hospital sometime before 2 a.m. Helus, a 29-year veteran, was looking to retire next year. He lived in Moorpark and is survived by his wife and son.
“Ron was a hard-working dedicated sheriff's sergeant,” Dean said. “He died a hero. He went in to save lives.”
The sheriff estimated a dozen or more people were injured.
“It's a horrific scene in there, there is blood everywhere and the suspect is part of that, and I didn't want to get that close and disturb the scene and possibly disturb the investigation,” he said.
The suspect was identified as 28-year-old Ian David Long, a United States Marine veteran who resided in Newbury Park, according to Dean. A law enforcement source told the Los Angeles Times newspaper the man drove his mother's car to the bar, was armed with a handgun and had some kind of smoke device with him.
Investigators are still working to determine a motive.
Witnessed described the gunman as tall and wearing all black with a hood over his head and his face partly covered. They said he first fired on a person working the door, then appeared to open fire at random at the people inside.
People screamed and fled to all corners of the bar, while a few people threw barstools through the windows and helped dozens to escape, according to witnesses.
“We have no idea whether there is a terrorism link or not,” Dean said, adding there was no reason to believe there was, but they would look at that option.
A handgun was recovered at the scene, but investigators did not find any type of assault rifle in the bar, he added.
The shooting took place as the bar was hosting its weekly “College Country Night,” and authorities said hundreds were inside when the gunfire erupted. Many were students, witnesses said.
The bar, which includes a large dance hall with a stage and a pool room along with several smaller areas for eating and drinking, is a popular hangout for students from nearby California Lutheran University. Classes were canceled for the day following the shooting.
Other schools in the area include California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, Pepperdine University in Malibu and Moorpark College in Moorpark.
“It's a horrific incident. It's part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere,” Dean said. “And I think it's impossible to put any logic or sense into the senseless.”
Shootings of any kind are very rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles west of Los Angeles.
It's considered among the safest cities in the U.S., according to Mayor Andy Fox.
“We are consistently ranked one of the highest with respect to the lowest crime rate per capita,” he told CNN. “The reality is that these types of incidents can happen really at any place, at any time, even in communities that are considered extremely safe.”