One was a veteran police officer who didn’t hesitate to run toward danger. Another was a young man who eagerly awaited the birth of his first sister and aimed to join the military. Others were a newly minted college graduate who worked with kids with developmental disabilities and a student with plans to study law.
The victims’ stories began to emerge Thursday as officials were still reaching out to their families. It was going to be a “very difficult day for many people,” said Andrew Fox, mayor of Thousand Oaks, California, where the attack happened Wednesday night.
RON HELUS: “I GOT TO GO HANDLE A CALL. I LOVE YOU.”
Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus was talking to his wife when calls started coming in about a shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill.
“Hey, I got to go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later,” he told her, according to Sheriff Geoff Dean.
It was the last time she would talk to her husband.
Helus rushed toward the shooting and immediately exchanged fire with the shooter inside the bar, Dean said. Helus was hit multiple times and died at a hospital.
Sgt. Eric Buschow, who said Helus was a friend, described him as a “cop’s cop.”
“The fact that he was the first in the door doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “He’s just one of those guys that wouldn’t hesitate in a situation.”
Helus took up fly fishing a few years ago and loved pursuing the hobby in the Sierra Nevada mountains with his grown son, Buschow said.
“He was just a great guy, a gentle soul,” Buschow said. “Patient. Calm no matter what. When you call 911, he’s one of the guys you want showing up.”
Helus was on the SWAT team for much of his career and worked in narcotics and investigations, he said.
“If you were a victim of a crime, you want him investigating the case,” Buschow said. “He would go to the ends of the Earth to find a suspect.”
Thousands of people lined streets and many others pulled over to honor the fallen officer during a somber 25-mile (40-kilometer) procession that took Helus’ body from a hospital to a coroner’s office.
Dean choked back tears talking about Helus and called him a hero.
“He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price,” he said.
CODY COFFMAN: ‘THE BIG BROTHER THAT MY KIDS NEED’
Cody Coffman had just turned 22 and was about to fulfill his dream of serving his country by joining the Army, said his father, Jason Coffman, who wept as he told a group of reporters that his first-born son was among the victims.
Cody adored his siblings — three brothers between ages 6 and 9 — and he couldn’t wait for the birth of a sister, due on Nov. 29, said Jason Coffman of Camarillo.
“Cody was the big brother that my kids need,” he said. “He was so excited to have his first sister and now she’ll never know …”
He trailed off, sobbing, then said, “Oh, Cody, I love you, son.”
Jason Coffman said his son was passionate about baseball, serving as an umpire for a little league, and they went fishing together.
“That poor boy would come with me whether he liked it or not,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff I am truly going to miss.”
Jason Coffman said he last spoke to his son Wednesday night before Cody headed to the bar where the gunman opened fire.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Please don’t drink and drive,'” he said. “The last thing I said was, ‘Son, I love you.'”
JUSTIN MEEK: ‘HEROICALLY SAVED LIVES’
Justin Meek had just graduated in May from California Lutheran University, where the campus chapel overflowed Thursday with people attending a service of mourning.
Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball said in a statement that Meek was among the dead and had “heroically saved lives” in the attack, without giving details.
Meek, 23, had majored in criminal justice, school spokeswoman Karin Grennan said.
He worked as a respite caregiver supporting families with children with special needs, said Sharon Francis, chief executive of Channel Island Social Services. He was hired last summer and mostly worked with kids with developmental disabilities.
“Parents just adored him. He was able to bond with their kids,” she said. “He was just an all-around guy.”
Danielle Gallo, who also works at the family-run organization, said he was dedicated to the kids he worked with.
“You could tell he really had a heart for what he did,” she said, sobbing.
Scott Roberts, 20, a junior at Cal Lutheran, said he’s friends with Meek’s sister, who also goes to the school, and that Meek is from a very tight family.
“He was just the nicest dude,” he said a public ceremony on campus Thursday. “I’m just praying he’s in a better place.”
ALAINA HOUSLEY: ‘AN INCREDIBLE YOUNG WOMAN’
Alaina Housley was just 18, a promising student at Pepperdine University with plans to study law, her family said.
Adam Housley, a former Fox News correspondent, and Tamera Mowry-Housley, an actress known for the 1990s TV series “Sister Sister,” said their niece was killed at the bar where she had gone line dancing with friends.
“Alaina was an incredible young woman with so much life ahead of her, and we are devastated that her life was cut short in this manner,” the couple said in a statement.
Alaina was bright, popular and well-loved, a student who had a 4.5 grade-point average since junior high school and earned college scholarships, said her grandfather, Art Housley.
She played soccer and tennis all through high school, studied piano and violin, and sang, he said.
“She’s a really good kid,” he said, fighting tears, before her relatives learned their fears of her death were true. “Everybody loves her.”
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California; Christopher Weber in Thousand Oaks; Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho; and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed.