THOUSAND OAKS, Calif (CN) – The bullet that killed a police officer responding to the Nov. 7 mass shooting at a bar and grill in Thousand Oaks, California, came from a fellow responding officer, the Ventura County sheriff said Friday.
After 28-year-old former U.S Marine Ian David Long launched his shooting rampage at the Borderline Bar and Grill just an hour north of Los Angeles, Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus rushed to the scene and entered the bar along with a California Highway Patrol officer.
Dozens of bar patrons immediately fled the scene when the shooting started, breaking windows with bar stools in order to quickly escape and even hiding in the building’s attic.
The two officers, who entered the bar armed with rifles, were immediately ambushed by Long and engaged in a heavy gun battle. Helus was struck by gunfire and evacuated from the building until more officers arrived on the scene.
Helus died from his injuries.
On Friday, Ventura County Sheriff William Ayub told reporters a bullet from the CHP officer’s rifle pierced Helus’ body armor and struck him in the heart.
“This news in no way diminishes the heroic actions that both men exhibited,” Ayub said.
The sequence of events is still being analyzed, but Ayub said it was clear that Helus was in between Long and the CHP officer during the shooting, adding that whether the shot was “accidental or a mis-sighting” is still being investigated.
“It was a brief but furious gun battle, and Helus was not the intended target of the CHP officer,” Ayub said. “This is difficult for all of us to process and understand.”
It was previously believed that Helus died after being struck by five bullets from Long’s handgun.
Dr. Christopher Young, the county medical examiner, said an autopsy showed that Helus’ wounds from the five bullets from Long’s gun were “serious but potentially survivable” and that the 6th shot from the CHP officer’s rifle was fatal.
“This is sad news, a tragedy,” said Young, who declined to comment on whether the bullet entered Helus’ chest or his back.
An FBI lab that examined the evidence confirmed the bullet matched the CHP officer’s rifle, Young said.
Young told reporters on Nov. 27 there was no information that any of the 11 other victims were struck by bullets fired from the rifles the two officers carried while responding to the shooting.
CHP Chief L.D. Maples said the news underscores the difficult situation the officers faced that night.
“The blame for this tragedy lies with one person,” Maples said. “Helus died a hero.”
Maples said the CHP officer, whose name is being withheld, is not on active duty. He said the officer was “devastated and as surprised as all of us” upon learning of the findings.
In a statement Friday, CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley extended condolences to Helus’ family and said the finding “underscores the difficult and dangerous circumstances law enforcement faces, often with only mere seconds to react.”
The motive for the shooting continues to elude investigators, Ayub said Friday. Last month, officials said Long had not been radicalized by any extremist group and had no violent interaction with police in the past.