THOUSAND OAKS — A sheriff's deputy who died in a mass shooting at a Southern California bar was shot five times by a gunman who massacred 11 others, but the officer was killed by friendly fire, authorities said Friday.
Sgt. Ron Helus was fatally shot in the heart by a California highway patrolman who had joined him in a firefight with the gunman at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks on Nov. 7, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said.
"It was just a tragic detail that unfolded so rapidly, in my view it was unavoidable," Ayub said. "They were ambushed almost immediately."
Ayub said the fatal shot did not diminish the heroism shown by the officers. The CHP officer was not identified, but is a nine-year veteran of the force who is on leave.
California Highway Patrol Commissioner Warren Stanley said in a statement the agency is "profoundly saddened to learn of new details emerging from the horrific incident."
"The mere thought of something like this happening is devastating to all of us and underscores the difficult and dangerous circumstances law enforcement faces, often with only mere seconds to react," Stanley wrote in the statement.
"Without question Sgt. Helus died a hero while protecting his community from a dangerous criminal," Stanley said. "In the face of danger, Sgt. Helus courageously upheld the oath he took to lay down his life rather than swerve from the path of duty."
Investigators did not offer any more insight into what drove Ian David Long, 28, to storm the country and western bar at an event for college students.
Long took his own life after the gun battle with the two officers.
Long threw smoke grenades into the group of revelers, obstructing what they could see, before he opened fire.
Then he used a flashlight with a laser sight attached to his .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol as he fired.
Panicked revelers smashed windows to flee, dived under tables and piled on top of each other in an effort to dodge the gunfire.
The first two officers to arrive at the scene, Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer, saw at least 100 people fleeing the bar.
Long had gotten into a tactical position and fired on them when they entered, striking Helus five times. A single round from the CHP officer struck Helus in the heart.
Helus, a 29-year veteran of the department, was close to retirement.