After Thousand Oaks Mass Shooting, A Warning: 'Pretty Soon Everyone's Going To Have A Sad Story'

Civilians, law enforcement and fire personnel look on from an overpass as a motorcade with the body of Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Helus passes by on Thursday. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)

Less than two weeks after the nation's collective eye last turned to a city wounded by gun violence, the cycle begins again.

Chaplains and counselors deployed, condolences from national leaders, flags lowered to half-staff, vigils organized, memories shared and the anticipation over finding a motive that still won't bring a sense of peace.

This time, a shooter entered The Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks and took the lives of 12 people and then himself.

"You know how this goes," political consultant Kellyanne Conway said on FOX News, "you've got loved ones probably still searching for their children, you have first responders and emergency personnel treating the wounded and this investigation will continue."

Though most don't receive national attention, this was the 307th shooting in 2018 alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks this.

A SAFE COMMUNITY, HEROIC ACTIONS

No one ever expects a mass shooting to puncture their community. But it was particularly rattling for Thousand Oaks, an affluent suburb outside of Los Angeles ranked one of the safest cities in America.

Wednesday is Borderline's regular college night. Students ages 18 and up were there from nearby Pepperdine University, Cal Lutheran and Cal State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). People had gathered to learn a new line dance when the gunman began shooting.

Witnesses seemed to recount what happened next with an eerie sense of calm.

"I understood that based on the number of shots that I heard that it was likely that several people had been injured or killed, and my main priority was getting myself to safety, and then once I was far away, helping the other patrons," said Benjamin Ginsburg, a recent graduate who regularly attended college night. He called into KPCC's AirTalk to share his experience.

We heard stories of heroic actions that saved lives.

"I looked up and one of my friends had thrown a bar stool through the window so we could get out," said Matt Wennerstrom, a student at CSUCI. "And we pushed the glass out of the way and got as many people out through that window as possible."

PREPARED FOR THE NEW NORMAL

Even in this community, known for being safe, training for tragedy has become a part of being a student today.

The student government at CSUCI holds active shooter seminars occasionally, including one as recently as this past spring. Cal Lutheran has a brochure on its website: Active Shooter: A Survival Mindset. Pepperdine has a page on its website with best practices for survival.

Drills are standard practice in high schools, becoming more common in middle and elementary schools and even in some preschools and child care centers.

Jason Coffman, whose 22-year-old son Cody was killed in the shooting, said one of the last things he said to his son was "please don't drink and drive." Instead, it was a gunman who cut his son's life short.

Brendan Kelly, another regular at Borderline, had already survived the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas in 2017. He said a couple dozen others who survived that shooting, which took place at a country music festival, regularly met up at Borderline.

"Borderline was our safe space after," Kelly told ABC 7. "It was our our home."

Kelly served in the Marine Corps. When he heard the shots, he said he immediately jumped into action, throwing people to the ground for cover.

Dr. Garen Wintemute, a gun researcher at University of California, Davis, said what we're preparing to survive has fundamentally changed.

"I remember when 'duck and cover' dealt with missiles that might be coming from overseas, that's what we got trained on," Wintemute said, "And these days, duck and cover refers to missiles that are coming from down the block or within the room."

'I DIDN'T FEEL SHOCK'

As the threats evolve, so have the skills we're learning. Since 2015, the American College of Surgeons has offered Bleeding Control Basics courses to give bystanders the skills to potentially save lives.

"As a public, our health literacy is changing as the health problems change," said psychologist Angelika Robinson.

Robinson herself survived the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino where 14 people attending a holiday work party were killed. Waking up Thursday morning, she turned on the TV and saw familiar images of flashing police lights and loved ones waiting.

"It really did hit home, and one of the emotions that I recognized was that I didn't feel shock," she told KPCC's Take Two.

"Because we've dealt with incidents like this so frequently lately we've become numb and inoculated in a sense. We wait for the next one to happen and it always does."

This realization made her outraged.

"This can't become our baseline," Robinson said. "It can't become something that we take for granted."

'EVERYONE'S GOING TO HAVE A SAD STORY'

At the Pepperdine campus on Thursday, friends and classmates awaited word about the fate of fellow student Alaina Housley. As the hours ticked by, the college students braced to get the news that inevitably came: Housley, 18, was dead.

Housley's roommate, who spoke on the condition she not be named to protect her privacy, was devasted. She was also angry.

"I thought I was passionate about this cause and about gun control before," she said, "but until it happens to you... like, if this keeps happening, pretty soon everyone's going to have a sad story. Everyone's going to have a friend that they've lost, if something doesn't change.

Zoe Walsh, a Pepperdine freshman, said that after a gunman earlier this year killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, she organized protests at her own high school. Walsh grew up in a world where school shootings were common enough that she's been rehearsing active shooter drills since elementary school. She called it "part of our average school day."

"I think the worst part is that as unreal as it feels, it's not something that's shocking in today's society because so many people have to go through this," Walsh said. "It's too frequent an occurrence and it hurts everytime, but it's never hurt like this before."

Losing someone she knows has made the issue of gun violence not just a matter of her political activism.

"Now it's a part of my personal emotional life," she said. "It's affecting the way I view relationships because I'm afraid when it comes to the safety and well-being of everyone that I love."

KPCC/LAist reporter Aaron Schrank contributed to this report


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