Nothing Prepared Sheriffs on Duty for the Horror of Borderline

"You have a great playbook until the first shot's fired," former Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

The former sheriff of Ventura County, and the current sheriff whose first days on the job were spent dealing with the Borderline Bar mass shooting and the explosive Woolsey Fire, have a combined 75 years in law enforcement, but nothing prepared them for that evening in Thousand Oaks one year ago Thursday.

"You have a great playbook until the first shot's fired," former Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

Both agree, it was like a battle scene.

"It was pandemonium," Sheriff Bill Ayub said.

The scene was all the more shocking because it was a neighborhood joint, and the night of Nov. 7, 2018, it was packed with young college-age patrons and several off-duty cops, all targeted by a lone gunman.

Within minutes of the 911 calls, Sgt. Ron Helus with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department responded.

"We went to the academy together and were SWAT members together for several years," Ayub said.

Sgt. Helus, while wearing body armor, was struck by friendly fire and killed.

A memorial in front of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department stands as a constant reminder of his sacrifice.

"It hurts my heart we lost a good human being. We lost a father," Ayub said. "Ron was known as '4 Sam 3' for a number of years and what we decided to do after his passing was to retire that call sign."

Almost immediately this single incident changed the way the department trained and operated.

"We've increased the frequency and the realism of the training," Ayub said.

Like many quiet tight-knit communities, the Borderline shooting forced the realization that it can happen here.

"What do you tell somebody who loses their son or daughter to senseless violence? I know how you feel, and I have no idea how you feel. It's a hellish responsibility," Ayub said.

But that's what the two were forced to do the week of Nov. 7.

The change of command between retiring sheriff Dean and incoming sheriff Ayub, typically an exciting time in a law enforcement career, all of a sudden changed.

Dean said the shooting made his final radio call all the more difficult to complete.

"I don't know if I can talk about that without losing it," he said, choking back tears.

The two said they will still not say the gunman's name.

See more coverage of the anniversary of the Borderline Bar & Grill tragedy here

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