The specific motive behind Wednesday night’s massacre at a packed Southern California bar, the latest mass shooting to rock the nation, remains a mystery.
What’s clear, however, is that the shooter — 28-year-old Ian David Long, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan — was on authorities’ radar and exhibited clear warning signs pointing to possible post-traumatic stress disorder just months before he embarked on a deadly rampage that claimed a dozen lives, including that of a sheriff’s sergeant.
Long, who police say entered the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks late Wednesday clad in all black and armed with a .45-caliber Glock 21 handgun equipped with an illegal extended magazine and a “smoke device,” was found dead at the scene, probably at his own hand. The bar, a popular dance venue, was packed with hundreds of people during its regular “college country night.”
Officials at Pepperdine University and California Lutheran College said some of the victims were students or recent graduates of their schools.
Paul Delacourt, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said the crime scene and the gunman’s home and car were being searched for evidence and that interviews were being conducted, but he told reporters it was premature to speculate on a motive.
Although he had no criminal record, Long was interviewed by police and mental health professionals in April after violent outbursts. Those who knew the troubled veteran said they feared he might be prone to violence — and knew that he was proficient with firearms.
“I was concerned because I knew he had been in the military,” neighbor Tom Hanson, 70, told The Associated Press of the April incident, which he described as “heavy-duty banging” coming from the Long house in Newbury Park, where the Marine veteran lived with his mother.
Another neighbor, who spoke anonymously to local TV station KABC, said Long’s instability should have resulted in the confiscation of his weapons. California law allows for authorities to temporarily restrict firearm possession if a mental health professional deems it necessary.
“I don’t know what he was doing with a gun,” the neighbor said.
President Trump ordered the White House flag lowered to half-staff and applauded the response of local police, including Sgt. Ron Helus, who was the first to enter the bar and later died from gunshot wounds.
“Great bravery shown by police. California Highway Patrol was on scene within 3 minutes, with first officer to enter shot numerous times. That Sheriff’s Sergeant died in the hospital. God bless all of the victims and families of the victims. Thank you to Law Enforcement,” the president said on Twitter.
The deadly assault is the latest in a string of mass shootings that have shaken the country this year. It is the deadliest single attack since February’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and comes just 11 days after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that claimed 11 lives.
Nikolas Cruz, who is accused in the Florida attack, also was known to authorities for months leading up to the day 17 people inside the school were killed. He also had given clear indications that he may be prone to violence.
In the California case, police officials said they had witnessed Long “acting irrationally” when they visited his home in April and speculated that he may have been dealing with PTSD, though there is no evidence that Long had made any violent threats.
“PTSD might be a part of the conversation,” Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said Wednesday.
Long served in the Marine Corps from August 2008 until March 2013 and earned the rank of corporal in 2011, military officials said. During his time in the armed forces, he spent about six months in Afghanistan. Court records show he married in 2009 and was divorced in 2013.
Some specialists caution against immediately jumping to the conclusion that Long’s history in the military, or the trauma he may have suffered while serving, played a role in pushing him to violence.
“When you see something like this happen and find out it’s someone with a military history, all of a sudden that becomes the center of attention,” said Chris Marvin, a member of the Everytown for Gun Safety Veterans Advisory Council and a retired combat-wounded Army officer.
“When we hear Marine Corps, people jump to PTSD, and they do it because they want to scapegoat — here’s something to blame,” he said.
While Mr. Marvin and other specialists point out that the overwhelming majority of those suffering from PTSD do not commit violence, those close to Long seemed deeply concerned that he was on the verge of lashing out.
Neighbor Richard Berge told USA Today that the walls inside the Long home were “full of holes,” presumably from being punched or kicked. He said Long’s mother tried to persuade her son to seek counseling but that the son refused.
“She was worried because he wouldn’t get help,” Mr. Berge said. “I asked her, ‘Can’t he just get help?’ She said, ‘He can’t get help.’”
Long was the subject of a mental health review after the April encounter with police. Under California’s “red flag” law, authorities could have temporarily confiscated Long’s guns until he had undergone a more thorough evaluation.
But mental health specialists cleared Long, shining a spotlight on how even the most well-intentioned laws often rely on the judgment of one or two people to prevent a tragedy.
The red flag law “relies on local law enforcement, it relies on family members to make some assessments and then it goes through the proper process to get firearms temporarily restricted,” Mr. Marvin said.
“We’re still learning,” he said. “It seems the mental health professional in this case didn’t deem that to be necessary.”
In California and in Washington, Democrats renewed their calls for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting.
“Last night’s horrific shooting in Thousand Oaks is nothing short of a tragedy. Our hearts are with all those whose loved ones were stolen from them too soon, by yet another senseless act of gun violence,” California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom posted on Twitter. “The gun violence that continues to plague our nation is beyond heartbreaking — it’s a societal failure. Simply saying, ‘enough is enough,’ is NOT enough.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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