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 were an “extremely nice” busboy and a Marine veteran who dedicated his life to service, including helping other veterans adjust to civilian life.
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.
The victims’ stories are starting to emerge.
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 shooter inside the bar, Dean said. Helus was hit multiple times and died at a hospital.
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.”
Thousands of people lined streets and many others pulled over to honor the fallen officer during a somber 25-mile (40-kilometer) procession that took Helus’ body from a hospital to a coroner’s office.
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, who had just turned 22, was talking with Army recruiters and preparing to fulfill his dream of serving his country, said his father, Jason Coffman, who wept as he told a group of reporters that his first-born son was among the victims.
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, said Jason Coffman of Camarillo.
“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.”
He said his son was passionate about baseball, serving as an umpire for a little league, and they went fishing 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 where the gunman opened fire.
“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 cared for children with special needs, performed as a singer and worked at the Borderline bar.
It was there he “heroically saved lives” before being killed, Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball said in a statement. He didn’t provide details.
The campus chapel overflowed Thursday with people attending a service of mourning. Meek, 23, majored in criminal justice and graduated in May, school spokeswoman Karin Grennan said.
Since last summer, Meek had 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 played water polo for Cal Lutheran and had planned to go to San Diego this coming weekend for the retirement party of his dad, a Navy SEAL. Meek also worked at the bar with his sister and fellow Cal Lutheran student, Victoria Rose Meek, who survived, Ellis said.
“Both very polite, iconic American kids, highly educated, wholesome,” Ellis said of the siblings.
As a student, Meek lent his full, velvety voice to the Cal Lutheran 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, had warm memories of her brother.
“He was just the nicest dude,” Roberts said. “I’m just praying he’s in a better place.”
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, before her relatives learned their fears of her death were true. “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, said police informed Sparks’ father Thursday that she had died in the shooting.
“We’re in shock,” Patricia Sparks told The Associated Press.
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 was a regular at Borderline, where she spent Halloween and celebrated her 21st birthday in August. She often went there with friends and her mom.
When friend Jackie Jones heard about the shooting, she jumped into her car and headed to the bar shortly after midnight. She was 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 was artistic and a leader in church activities. She was majoring in art at nearby Moorpark College.
Sparks worked part time at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village. She helped 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. “I don’t think in all the years I’ve known him, and it’s almost 30, I ever heard him say ‘no’ to someone.”
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, while people listened.
“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. “I woke up this morning to tragedy.”
A vigil is being held for Adler Thursday night at the coffee shop. Another one will be held Friday to include family traveling from out of town.
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.”
Orfanos was a U.S. Navy veteran with a thick beard, an easy smile and a gladiator helmet tattoo. His friends called him “Tel.”
She said she wants Congress to “pass gun control so no one else has a child that doesn’t come home.”
Photos on Orfanos’ Facebook page show the Eagle Scout with friends at ballgames or at work. Some photos are embellished with patriotic graphics and another marks the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
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.”
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 leaving 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 and call it “O’brique” — a combination of their last names.
Manrique also volunteered at a hospital helping the homeless and at a local church.
The Team Red White and Blue family was heartbroken, executive director John Pinter said.
“Dan’s life was dedicated to serving others, during his military career and beyond,” Pinter said in a statement on the organization’s website. “We offer our deepest condolences to the Manrique family and ask that our Eagles around the world join us in keeping all those impacted by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers.”
(Copyright (c) 2019 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)