Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office had just spoken to his wife on the phone when a call came over the radio.
“Respond code 3 to a 245 in progress at the Borderline, 99 Rolling Oaks. Hearing gunshots fired. One subject advised there’s suspects inside shooting.”
Helus began racing toward the scene, asking for more details.
“What was occurring inside?” he radioed.
“Shooting,” the dispatcher responded. “RP [the witness calling in the report] advised suspect, a white male, shot approximately eight shots. Weapon was a black semiautomatic.”
The dispatcher added, “RP advised the suspect was at front, shooting everybody. He’s still inside the bar.”
“Unit responding to the Borderline,” the dispatcher continued. “We have one subject advised she was shot and bleeding at the entrance... Suspect’s wearing a black hat, a black hoodie and black pants. Still inside the bar...”
An officer who had arrived on the scene radioed a further description of the gunman and what he was wearing that the dispatcher repeated.
“White male. Facial hair. Black on black.”
Helus, who was going by the call number 1473, arrived at the scene in less than two minutes. He was joined by two members of the California Highway Patrol.
“And we have at least one victim outside,” he reported over the radio.
He radioed for a unit to check the area by a freeway on-ramp where the gunman might seek to escape. He kept the most dangerous job for himself.
“I’m going in the entrance on the left with two CHP,” he radioed. “We need another unit to cover the back northeast side.”
His was the steady voice of bravery itself.
“One subject advised she didn’t see him come out,” Helus said. “We’re making entry.”
He was walking into the most mortal danger, but his first thought was not of himself. The voice of bravery also became the voice of deepest decency.
“We got multiple people down,” he said. “We need a lot of ambulances.”
His tone was the sound of America at its best even as he faced the personification of the country at its worst, yet another homicidally deranged figure who had no trouble acquiring a weapon.
He added, “At least five down inside.”
“The suspect?” the dispatcher asked.
Helus did not reply. He remained radio silent for 23 long seconds amidst more horrific proof that our most urgent problems seem beyond our ability to address them, that millions of us line up to vote in elections and nothing changes.
“South entrance…” Helus said.
Eleven seconds later, an officer radioed an urgent report.
“Be advised there are multiple shots being fired, the back northwest area.”
The dispatcher repeated, “Multiple shots being fired in the back.”
The dispatcher then reported, “Units at the Borderline, we do have a landline with some victims in the bathroom.”
The dispatcher addressed Helus, “1473, we have four ambulances en route.”
Helus did not reply.
He stayed silent as the radio filled with reports of subjects running from the bar to a nearby gas station seeking medical attention and of other patrons hiding in the attic and a call for a unit with a rifle.
“I have two units with ARs [AR-15 assault rifles] going to the front of the building,” a supervisor reported.
An officer who must have arrived after the first moments radioed a question.
“Who went into the building?”
The dispatcher responded, “73 advised he went into the building.”
No word came from Helus as the officers outside the bar radioed that they could see no movement inside and that more blood-covered victims had made it to the gas station.
The gunman had apparently tossed in a smoke grenade and that, along with fear, had apparently caused a victim to mistakenly transmogrify a white all-American Marine veteran into a foreign spectre.
“Victim advised the suspect was Middle Eastern,” an officer reported.
The dispatcher announced, “Units at the Borderline, we do have a female in the bathroom, does not have updates, does not hear any gunshots.”
Officers were preparing to follow Helus inside.
“I have numerous civilians near the south entrance,” an officer reported. “Can I send them your ways for an exit?”
“Affirmative,” a fellow officer replied.
The civilians made their way to safety, blood-spattered, some wounded, but alive thanks to the comrade an officer discovered when he entered the bar.
“473 is down and unresponsive at the south entrance,” he reported. “73 down and unresponsive at the south entrance.”
An urgent voice came over the air.
“We have 1473... evacuating... west parking lot... We need a unit STAT.”
“Units are evacuating 473 to the west parking lot,” an officer repeated. “Respond code 3.”
The urgent voice turned nearly frantic, “We need a vehicle for 473!”
Helus was carried out by his fellow officers and immediately rushed to the hospital. The cop who had reported finding Helus was asked a question by the dispatcher.
“Were you able to see if anybody else was down in the building?”
The office replied, “Affirmative. You have a bouncer that’s down directly inside the door. And you have a subject dressed in all black...He's dressed in all black with a beard and a cursory search did not find a weapon but he matches the suspect’s description.”
The gunman—later identified as Marine veteran Ian David Long—used a .45-caliber Glock with an extended magazine to carry out the latest madness, claiming the lives of 11 innocents in a crowd just out for a night of fun.
Even more would surely have died at the Borderline on Wednesday night were it not for the CHP officer and Helus, who had proven to be beyond saving. The transmission recordings of his final moments leave us with the voice of bravery itself and of deepest decency in the face of an evil we must somehow address.
“It’s a horrific incident,” Sheriff Geoff Dean told the press. “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 senseless.”