Mourners have gathered to hold hands, sing and to wonder how one of the safest cities in America could become a killing zone.
Hundreds of people gathered on Thursday evening to remember the dozen people shot and killed by a marine veteran at the packed Borderline Bar & Grill the night before.
It was a scene of horror enacted in many places around the country in recent months, but never before in Thousand Oaks.
Terrified patrons who had gathered for the weekly line dancing and college night hurled bar stools through windows to escape or threw their bodies protectively on top of friends as shots erupted.
Twelve people were killed including Ventura County sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran nearing retirement who responded to reports of shots fired and was gunned down as he entered the bar.
He and other first responders “ran toward danger”, Sheriff Geoff Dean said at the vigil.
“When I told her (his wife) that we had lost her hero, I said to her, ‘Because of Ron, many lives were saved’,” Mr Dean said. “And she looked at me through her tears and she said, ‘He would have wanted it that way’.”
The dead also included a man who had survived last year’s massacre in Las Vegas, Telemachus Orfanos, 27.
“I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts,” his mother Susan Schmidt-Orfanos said earlier. “I want those bastards in Congress — they need to pass gun control so no one else has a child that doesn’t come home.”
The city of about 130,000 people, about 40 miles from Los Angeles, is annually listed as one of the safest cities in America.
“Hope has sustained communities, very much like Thousand Oaks, through the exact same triages of mass shootings,” said Andy Fox, the city’s outgoing mayor.
“Tonight Thousand Oaks takes its place with those cities, who in order to move forward will rely on hope. we are Thousand Oaks strong.”
The motive for the attack is under investigation.
The killer, Ian David Long, 28, was a former machine gunner and Afghanistan war veteran who was interviewed by police at his home last spring after an episode of agitated behaviour that authorities were told might be post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dressed all in black with his hood pulled up, Long opened fire with a handgun with an illegal, extra-capacity magazine. He shot a security guard outside the bar and then went in and took aim at employees and customers, authorities said.
He apparently killed himself as scores of police converged on the nightspot.
Many of the estimated 150 patrons at the Borderline dived under tables, ran for exits, broke through windows or hid in the attic and toilets, authorities and witnesses said.
All morning, people looking for missing friends and relatives arrived at a community centre where authorities and counsellors were informing the next-of-kin of those who died.
It was the nation’s deadliest such attack since 17 students and teachers were killed at a Florida high school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Democratic governor-elect Gavin Newsom, in his first public appearance since winning office on Tuesday, lamented the violence that has returned to California.
“It’s a gun culture,” he said. “You can’t go to a bar or nightclub? You can’t go to church or synagogue? It’s insane is the only way to describe it. The normalisation, that’s the only way I can describe it. It’s become normalised.”
President Donald Trump praised police for their “great bravery” in the attack and ordered flags flown at half-mast in honour of the victims.
Authorities searched Long’s home in Newbury Park, about five miles from the bar, for clues to what set him off.
“Maybe there was a motive for this particular night, but we have no information leading to that at all,” the sheriff said.
Long was in the Marines from 2008 to 2013, rose to the rank of corporal and served in Afghanistan in 2010-11 before he was honourably discharged, the military said. Court records show he married in 2009 and was divorced in 2013.
Authorities said he had no criminal record, but in April officers were called to his home, where they found him angry and acting irrationally.
The sheriff said officers were told he might have PTSD because of his military service. A mental health specialist met him and did not feel he needed to be admitted to hospital.