LOS ANGELES -- A gunman threw smoke bombs and rained bullets on a crowd of hundreds inside a Thousand Oaks bar that is popular with college students Wednesday night, leaving 12 dead including a sheriff's sergeant shot trying to stop the carnage.
The massacre occurred at the Borderline Bar & Grill, with the assailant firing wildly into the crowd.
In addition to the dead, 10 other people may have been injured, according to Sheriff Geoff Dean, who added that it's too early to know if the shooter took his own life.
The gunman burst into the bar around 11:20 p.m., cloaked in all black.
Ventura County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Ron Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer entered the bar first and were met with gunfire from the suspect, whose identity was not immediately known. Helus was shot several times and died at an area hospital early Thursday morning, according to Dean.
Helus, a 29-year veteran of the sheriff's department, was planning to retire next year. Dean said he died "a hero."
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He is survived by a son and his wife, whom he called before entering the bar, Dean said.
"It's 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 senseless.
"This community in my 41 years had never experienced anything like this," he added.
Witnesses reported a horrifying scene as gunfire echoed through the club and those inside ran for cover, in some cases using chairs to break windows to escape the building. Others hid in bathrooms and an attic as they frantically called loved ones who were hearing reports of the shooting.