Military veterans, 2 friends, bar workers killed in shooting
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — One was a veteran police officer who didn’t hesitate to run toward danger. Another had survived the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Others include two friends who loved off-roading, a Marine veteran who dedicated his life to service and a recent college graduate who worked with children with special needs.
They were among a dozen people killed in a shooting at a country music bar in suburban Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Authorities believe the gunman, Ian David Long, ultimately killed himself.
RON HELUS: ‘COP’S COP’
Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus was talking to his wife when calls started coming in about a shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill.
“Hey, I got to go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later,” he told her, according to Sheriff Geoff Dean.
It was the last time she would talk to her husband.
Helus rushed toward the shooting and immediately exchanged fire with the gunman, Dean said. Helus was hit multiple times.
Sgt. Eric Buschow, who said Helus was a friend, described him as a “cop’s cop.”
“The fact that he was the first in the door doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “He’s just one of those guys that wouldn’t hesitate in a situation.”
Helus took up fly fishing a few years ago and loved pursuing the hobby in the Sierra Nevada mountains with his grown son, Buschow said.
“He was just a great guy, a gentle soul,” Buschow said. “Patient. Calm no matter what. When you call 911, he’s one of the guys you want showing up.”
Helus was on the SWAT team for much of his career and worked in narcotics and investigations, he said.
“If you were a victim of a crime, you want him investigating the case,” Buschow said. “He would go to the ends of the Earth to find a suspect.”
Dean choked back tears talking about Helus and called him a hero.
“He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price,” he said.
CODY COFFMAN: ‘THE BIG BROTHER THAT MY KIDS NEED’
Cody Coffman, who had just turned 22, was talking with Army recruiters and preparing to fulfill his dream of serving his country, father Jason Coffman said, weeping.
Cody adored his siblings — three brothers between ages 6 and 9 — and he couldn’t wait for the birth of a sister, due on Nov. 29, his father said.
“Cody was the big brother that my kids need,” he said. “He was so excited to have his first sister and now she’ll never know …”
He trailed off, sobbing, then said, “Oh, Cody, I love you, son.”
Jason Coffman said his son was passionate about baseball, serving as an umpire for a little league, and they fished together.
“That poor boy would come with me whether he liked it or not,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff I am truly going to miss.”
Jason Coffman said he last spoke to his son Wednesday night before Cody headed to the bar.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Please don’t drink and drive,'” he said. “The last thing I said was, ‘Son, I love you.'”
JUSTIN MEEK: ‘FULL OF LIGHT AND HAPPINESS’
Newly graduated from California Lutheran University, Justin Meek performed as a singer and worked at the Borderline.
Meek, 23, also worked for Channel Island Social Services as a respite caregiver, supporting families with children with special needs, mostly developmental disabilities, chief executive Sharon Francis said.
“Parents just adored him. He was able to bond with their kids,” she said. “He was just an all-around guy.”
Danielle Gallo, who also works at the family-run organization, said he was dedicated to the kids he worked with.
“You could tell he really had a heart for what he did,” she said, sobbing.
Meek also toured professionally as an a cappella singer, said family friend Patrick Ellis, who called Meek a talented musician, singer and athlete and a “fantastic human being.”
“He was a hero every day of his life,” Ellis said. “It was just always positive energy. … Anything he could do for you, he was just there.”
Meek worked at the bar with his sister and fellow Cal Lutheran student, Victoria Rose Meek, who survived, Ellis said.
Meek played water polo for Cal Lutheran. He also lent his full, velvety voice to the school choir, where “every time he sang, you could just feel it in your soul,” recalled choir member Rachel Counihan, 20.
“He cared so much about his craft and just cared so much about other people,” she said. “He was just full of light and happiness.”
Scott Roberts, 20, a junior at the school and friend of Victoria Rose Meek’s, recalled Meek being “just the nicest dude.”
ALAINA HOUSLEY: ‘AN INCREDIBLE YOUNG WOMAN’
Alaina Housley was just 18, a promising student at Pepperdine University with plans to study law, her family said.
Adam Housley, a former Fox News correspondent, and Tamera Mowry-Housley, an actress known for the 1990s TV series “Sister Sister,” said their niece was killed at the bar where she had gone line dancing with friends.
“Alaina was an incredible young woman with so much life ahead of her, and we are devastated that her life was cut short in this manner,” the couple said in a statement.
Alaina was bright, popular and well-loved, a student who had a 4.5 grade-point average since junior high school and earned college scholarships, said her grandfather, Art Housley.
She played soccer and tennis all through high school, studied piano and violin, and sang, he said.
“She’s a really good kid,” he said, fighting tears. “Everybody loves her.”
NOEL SPARKS: ‘ALL-AROUND GOOD GIRL’
Noel Sparks, a 21-year-old college student, loved going to the Borderline Bar and Grill, so friends and family were not surprised when she posted a photo of herself dancing there Wednesday night.
Her aunt Patricia Sparks of Morristown, Tennessee, told The Associated Press that the family was “in shock.”
She described her niece as an “all-around good girl. She was the kind of girl that if you had friends, you’d want them to marry her.”
Sparks, who was majoring in art at nearby Moorpark College, often went to Borderline with friends and her mom, going there for Halloween and her 21st birthday in August.
When friend Jackie Jones heard about the shooting, she jumped into her car and headed to the bar, determined to find Sparks.
“She would do that for me,” Jones said.
The two met through church two years ago and became fast friends. Sparks worked part time at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, helping with children’s programs, the Rev. Shawn Thornton said.
“She loved kids. We had a lot of parents show up today to say, ‘She made my child feel important and that they mattered,” Thornton said.
SEAN ADLER: ‘A VERY, VERY BIG PERSONALITY’
Sean Adler, 48, was a security guard at Borderline who would stay late to ensure people could get home safely, said Debbie Allen, a longtime friend.
The married father of two boys died doing what he was passionate about — protecting people, Allen said.
“He was a very, very big personality and had a very, very gorgeous smile,” she said, adding that he had once considered becoming a police officer.
His other passion, she said, was coffee. Adler recently opened his own coffee shop, Rivalry Roasters, in Simi Valley, said Phil Englander, another longtime friend.
“He was just the most passionate person about coffee you would ever want to meet,” Englander said.
Adler joked about being a “coffee dealer” and spoke energetically, using his hands.
“He always had that energetic personality,” he said. “He’s just such a warm and friendly and passionate person about everything in his life.”
Englander said he stopped by the coffee shop Wednesday to visit Adler.
“We talked about family, and we reminisced about an old friend of ours we haven’t seen in years,” he said.
TELEMACHUS ORFANOS: VEGAS SURVIVOR KILLED
Telemachus Orfanos, 27, lived through the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year only to die inside Borderline, less than 10 minutes from his home, according to his mother.
“Here are my words: I want gun control,” Susan Schmidt-Orfanos said, her voice shaking with grief and rage. “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts.”
She said she wants Congress to “pass gun control so no one else has a child that doesn’t come home.”
Orfanos was a U.S. Navy veteran and Eagle Scout with a thick beard, an easy smile and a gladiator helmet tattoo. His friends called him “Tel.”
One of them, Aliza Thomas, said she knew Orfanos since high school and called him one of the nicest men she’s ever known.
“He was the most likely person to throw himself in front of that gun,” Thomas said. “He would have thrown himself on top of someone else, 100 percent.”
She said it’s especially tragic that Orfanos survived Vegas only to die in another mass shooting.
“He survived Vegas, where a lot more people died than this. It’s just unreal,” Thomas said. “It’s not fair.”
DANIEL MANRIQUE: ‘A SAINT’
Daniel Manrique, 33, dedicated his life to service — as a hospital volunteer, U.S. Marine and manager of an organization that helps veterans adjust after leaving the military.
He was a radio operator with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and he deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Orange County Register reported.
After the military, Manrique began volunteering with Team Red White and Blue, an organization that works to help veterans avoid isolation by connecting them to their community. He was named a regional program manager last month.
“The best way I can describe him is as a saint. He truly believed in service,” friend and business partner Tim O’Brien told the newspaper. “Dan was the guy you could rely on if you ran out of gas in the middle of the night. He would help you out if something bad happened. He was there, dedicated, loyal.”
The two high school friends were preparing to open a veteran-oriented brewery called “O’brique” — a combination of their last names.
Manrique also volunteered at a hospital helping the homeless and at a local church.
“Dan’s life was dedicated to serving others, during his military career and beyond,” Team Red White and Blue executive director John Pinter said on the organization’s website. “We offer our deepest condolences to the Manrique family.”
BLAKE DINGMAN: ‘HIS LAUGHTER AND SMILE WERE SO SPECIAL’
Blake Dingman was passionate about working on cars and motorcycles, challenging himself to make repairs on anything mechanical even if he wasn’t exactly sure how to do it, mother Lorrie Dingman said. The 21-year-old always had a smile on his face and grease under his fingernails, she said.
Blake was working in the electrical field and was excited about getting a new job, his mother said.
His large group of friends went off-roading in the desert and mountains, with Blake and his friend Jake Dunham, who also was killed at the Borderline, “always in the center of the fun.”
“Blake had a zest and joy for living life to the fullest,” Lorrie Dingman said in an email. “No gathering was complete without Blake. His laughter and smile were so special and whenever you talked to him, he was genuinely interested in you.”
She said he was confident, talented, caring and had a huge heart.
On Instagram, brother Aidan Dingman wrote that “my amazing brother was taken down by the shooter” and that his life has been forever changed.
“Words cannot describe the pain I am feeling,” he wrote, adding: “Blake I love you so much and I miss you more than you can imagine.”
JAKE DUNHAM: GUTSY OFF-ROADER
Jake Dunham, 21, was known for driving his truck hard. He was a regular at rides in the desert and at group bonfires made from igniting vehicles and old dirt bikes, according to a friend.
“He always tried to convince people to (let him) drive their car. Everyone knew it was a bad idea, but sometimes they’d do it,” Michael Moses told the Los Angeles Times, laughing.
Dunham was at the bar with his friend and fellow off-roader, Dingman, who also was killed.
Aliza Thomas told The Associated Press that Dunham and Dingman were her friends and grew up in a tight-knit group of young men with her younger brother Emmet.
“They were the nicest, most respectful, selfless men I’ve ever met,” she said.
Thomas, a single mom, cried as she recalled how Dingham and Dunham would go out of their way to make her son feel like one of the boys, “make him feel special.”
Dunham’s sister, Alexis Dunham, asked on her Facebook page for privacy to let the family grieve, saying “these last days have completely shattered us.”
KRISTINA MORISETTE: ENERGETIC AND THOUGHTFUL
Kristina Morisette worked at the front desk of Borderline and had just bought her first car — a 2017 Jeep Renegade — with the money she had saved, her father said.
Michael Morisette told the Los Angeles Times that his energetic and talkative 20-year-old daughter had just returned from a trip to Austin, Texas, and he hugged her, relieved she was back home safe in Simi Valley.
Kristina gave her mother a coin purse she bought for her on the trip before heading to work Wednesday.
“We’d rather just curl up in a ball and turn off the lights, but there are other people out there that are hurting, too,” Michael Morisette told the newspaper as he held his wife’s hand. “We could either retreat and draw our curtains, or we could talk about the beauty of the things that were.”
He said Kristina, the youngest of three children, was a thoughtful friend who always helped others. She enjoyed hiking and drawing and was considering applying for an animal training program in Austin.
“We didn’t want her life to end, but we don’t want her memories now to end, either,” mother Martha Morisette told the newspaper. “We’ll probably always have a hard time dealing with it.”
MARKY MEZA JR.: ‘LOVING AND WONDERFUL YOUNG MAN’
Marky Meza Jr., who was less than two weeks from his 21st birthday, was working as a busboy and food runner at the bar when he was killed.
“Marky was a loving and wonderful young man who was full of life and ambition,” the Meza family said in a statement provided to Santa Barbara TV station KEYT. “His family is devastated by his loss.”
Meza grew up in the Santa Barbara area and had worked in the service industry since he was a teen.
He was one of the few teenagers who got hired at Sandpiper Lodge in Santa Barbara, manager Shawn Boteju said. Meza worked full time at the Sandpiper in housekeeping and would come to work on a hoverboard.
“He was extremely nice,” Boteju told The Associated Press. “He obviously worked well with the rest of the staff.”
Tang reported from Phoenix and Boone from Boise, Idaho. Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers in Los Angeles, Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Christopher Weber in Thousand Oaks, Julie Watson in San Diego and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed.