Sgt. Ron Helus was on the phone with his wife of three decades when he got the late-night call one week ago about gunfire at a Thousand Oaks bar.
What he did next came as no surprise to Karen Helus and colleagues of the veteran Ventura County Sheriff's Department sergeant. Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer rushed toward the danger -- likely saving people desperately trying to escape from a gunman who opened fire during a college night event at the Borderline Bar.
The phone conversation, one of many calls Karen Helus received from her husband as he checked in during his shift over the years, was their last. The 54-year-old Helus was struck by gunfire and later died at a hospital.
"He said, had to back someone up, and he said he loved me," Karen Helus said in a "Today" show interview with 24-year-old son Jordan at her side. "And, I'm glad that I said I loved him. That was the last time I talked to him."
Using a police scanner app on her phone, Karen Helus listened to the emergency response communications after the call and found out why her husband had to go.
"I never listen to the scanner," she said. "Except that I had just got the app on my phone, and I don't know what made me turn it on, but I did hear what was happening and in some ways it gives me a lot of comfort to know I don't have a lot of questions. So yeah, as hard as it was to hear it, I know the answers to what I need to know right now."
Helus, a member of the sheriff's department for nearly 30 years, was one of 12 victims killed in the horrific mass shooting. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday, when his law enforcement colleagues, family and friends will gather to remember his career and honor his legacy.
"I can't bring him back," Karen Helus said. "But you know what? He died doing what he would have wanted to do. And he's in a better place.
"He would have said he was just doing his job, but you know what, he is a hero, and I want him to be known for that, because that's what he did. He had a heart of gold. He would've done anything for anyone."
By confronting the gunman and exchanging fire, he provided others in the bar with time to escape.
Sheriff Geoff Dean, who retired Friday, choked up early that morning when he had to announce Sgt. Helus' death at a news conference.
"There's no doubt that they saved lives by going in there," Dean said.
Helus also was making plans for retirement, which was just a few months away. He went back to school for a master's degree and opened a business training people in gun safety.
Sgt. Helus joined the sheriff's department at about the time the two were married. Karen Helus said her husband was protective, but that the couple also laughed a lot.
"I'll miss that," she said
After news of his death spread throughout the community northwest of Los Angeles, hundreds of people lined the streets to pay their respects as a hearse carried his body from Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks to a coroner's office. Firefighters saluted from freeway overpasses in honor of the lawman and positioned two ladder trucks with a U.S. flag suspended between them along the route.
Those who worked alongside Helus remember his as that rare individual who could be trusted in the worst of times -- a ray of light shining through the darkness. He took on the toughess assignments, working SWAT operations and in narcotics and investigations
"The fact that he was the first in the door doesn't surprise me at all," said sheriff's Sgt. Eric Buschow, a colleague and longtime friend. "He's just one of those guys who wouldn't hesitate in a situation. "If you were a victim of a crime, you want him investigating the case. He would go to the ends of the earth to find a suspect."
The lobby of the sheriff's station is filled with flowers and messages, items left by residents in memory of the slain sergeant.
For son Jordan, he will not only remember his father's heroic actions, but also their fishing and annual camping trips.
"It's a life of good memories," Jordan Helus said.
Investigators say the gunman, a former machine gunner in the Marine Corps, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.