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'A Hurting City': Thousand Oaks Grieves Victims Of The Borderline Shooting

Friends and family members pay tribute to victims of the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif. A vigil drew thousands of people on Thursday as the community coped with the loss of 12 victims. The gunman also died.
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Friends and family members pay tribute to victims of the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif. A vigil drew thousands of people on Thursday as the community coped with the loss of 12 victims. The gunman also died.

The small community of Thousand Oaks, Calif., is mourning the victims of the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill, holding a candlelight vigil Thursday night to help relatives and loved ones cope with their sudden and staggering loss.

"Tonight we are a hurting city," Thousand Oaks Mayor Andy Fox told a large crowd at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. "But we are a community of love, of compassion and of unity. We're also a community of hope."

Hundreds of people gathered for the vigil at the Fred Kavli Theatre; other services were held at Pepperdine University and California Lutheran University — two schools with students who had gone to "College Country Night" at the Borderline on Wednesday.

"Our hearts are broken with the news of this profound loss," read a statement from Pepperdine University.

"I was just walking on campus. There's just people straight up, like, crying, and I've just never seen anything like that," student Douglas Liu told Doualy Xaykaothao, who was reporting for NPR. "And everyone is just so depressed."

Liu shared a class with Pepperdine student Alaina Housley, 18, who died in the shooting. The two were tennis partners, Xaykaothao reports.

Justin Meek, a recent graduate of California Lutheran, also died in the country music club and bar.

The assailant, Ian David Long, 28, is believed to have shot and killed himself in an office near the entrance to the country dance club. But he did so after opening fire on scores of defenseless patrons and employees — killing 12 people, including 54-year-old Sgt. Ron Helus, who was among the first to enter the venue after reports of gunshots were reported.

The day after the violence, the Thousand Oaks community also turned out to line the route of a procession that took Helus' body to the medical examiner's office. People stood along the roadside and on bridges as a convoy of law enforcement vehicles escorted the procession.

Long had been at the center of a call to police about a disturbance in April, when a crisis intervention team and a mental health specialist visited his family's house. That episode ended with the team clearing Long.

On Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement that Long, who was a Marine veteran, "was not enrolled in VA health care at any time."

But President Trump suggested Friday that Long had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder without offering evidence, claiming that "a lot of people say he had the PTSD" and calling Long "a very sick puppy."

Trump was speaking with reporters outside the White House on Friday morning when he was asked how gun policy might help reduce the number of mass shootings. The president said he viewed it as a mental health issue and that Long's history is now being scrutinized.

As Thousand Oaks comes to grips with its losses, the town and the surrounding area are also dealing with another challenge: A pair of wildfires — the Woolsey and Hill fires — have grown quickly over the past 24 hours, prompting evacuation orders and the opening of emergency shelters.

Thousand Oaks announced that City Hall is closed to the public on Friday, "as we address fire-related issues."

The blazes also forced Pepperdine, which had remained open on the morning after the shooting, is closed on Friday, and the school issued a shelter-in-place order, warning students and staff at its Malibu campus that it was probably safer to remain on school grounds than to try to leave.

Cal Lutheran and another nearby school, California State University Channel Islands, also closed their campuses on Friday due to the fires.

As the LAist website reports, "Students at Cal Lutheran had been working on a production of the play Columbinus,"about the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. The first performance, which was set for Thursday, was canceled; it's now uncertain when the show might open.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.