Twelve people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside a crowded bar late Wednesday in Southern California, including a sheriff’s deputy who had rushed inside to help. Here are the stories of the victims.
Sean Adler, 48
Sean Adler had his heart set on becoming a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to a story about him in the Simi Valley Acorn newspaper. But then he had a heart attack after running a couple of miles during academy training last year.
So at 48, according to the Acorn, he chased a new dream: becoming an entrepreneur. He and a business partner opened a coffee shop in Simi Valley. Less than a month ago, Rivalry Roasters held its grand opening.
“When you’re passionate about what you do, it doesn’t feel like work; that’s what Rivalry Roasters is for me,” Adler told the Valley Acorn last month. “It’s not always easy to make ends meet, and I even work security at bars at night to help cover expenses, but I love what I’m doing.”
One of those bars where he worked as a bouncer: Borderline Bar & Grill.
The wrestling team at Royal High School in the Simi Valley Unified School District posted Thursday afternoon on Facebook that Adler had been killed at Borderline. “Sean was our strength coach a few years back. He was transitioning careers and still made time for our team. He traveled with us through some of the roughest times we had as a program. He was positive, motivational, and truly wanted the best for the people around him.”
Simi Valley High School’s wrestling coach, Chad Davidson, said he coached with Adler at Royal High when they were both assistants. “He was an awesome guy,” Davidson said. Everyone always says, “You couldn’t have met a nicer guy” about people, he said. “But for Sean, that was actually true. Always had a smile on his face and always ready to start a conversation.
“Sean has children, who he loved dearly and bragged about. They are who I am fervently praying for.”
—Susan SvrlugaBack to top Read more
Blake Dingman, 21
His voice quiet and cracking, Dan Dingman said his family found out late Thursday their son — Blake Dingman — died in the Thousand Oaks shooting.
“It’s just so brutal,” the father said in a telephone interview. “We are not doing well. His younger sibling is finally asleep after a long, long night.”
Dingman played high school baseball at Hillcrest Christian School in Thousand Oaks, his family said. He also loved off-roading and was described as “easygoing and fun-loving and a great athlete.”
His brother, Aidan, who is 18, wrote in an Instagram post, “the pain I am feeling. Last night my life was changed forever. I received news of gunfire at Borderline Bar & Grille from a friend. Which was where my brother was hanging out for the night. Me, my dad, and mom raced to the scene. Or as close as we could get. We tried for hours and hours to get in touch with Blake and got no response. At 12:00 this morning I was informed that my amazing brother was taken down by the shooter as well as his good friend Jake Dunham. Blake, I love you so much and I miss you more than you can imagine. #805strong.”
The two brothers were very close, Dan Dingman said.
The family gathered Friday morning, taking in the loss. Dingman’s great-aunt, Janet Dingman of Thousand Oaks, described him as “someone you were always proud of. Such a fun, loving person. We are just in a horrible place.”
—Emily Wax-ThibodeauxBack to top Read more
Jacob Dunham, 21
Jacob Dunham was the guy who took a tense situation and made it funny. He struggled in his young life, with hemophilia and blindness in one eye, said his mother, Kathy Dunham. “Even though he had all these obstacles, he did everything to the fullest.”
His mother said her son’s death at Borderline Bar & Grill was made all the worse by the details she learned from the coroner. Dunham, out for the night with his close friend, Blake Dingman, was hiding in a bathroom stall when the gunman found him. “He tried. He tried to hide. That makes it even worse,” she said.
In life, Dunham was a “wonderful kid,” his mother said. “He’s the first one to get your back.”
He lived with his parents and sister, a tightknit family, she said. His favorite things to do: riding dirt bikes, working on his truck and hanging out with friends. He even rebuilt a diesel truck using only instructions from the Internet — and he loved to race it. Over the Fourth of July holiday this year, she said, he went to the lake with buddies, took out a ski boat and hoisted a huge American flag.
A friend, Mackenzie Souser, said she was a recent addition to Dunham’s group of friends and that he made her feel welcome from the start. “His little jokes made everyone feel loved and included,” she said.
She remembered once when a group of friends got back from a road trip — the trip had been Dunham and Dingman’s idea. They were “super hungry,” and there was a ton of traffic. No one was in a particularly good mood as they pulled up, exhausted and haggard, into a chicken joint. Dunham made the whole crew laugh when he put his thumbs into his belt loops and proclaimed, “Welcome to the [expletive] Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch.”
“We spent the whole time joking how there’s no chicken there,” she said.
He was always joking as a child, too, his mother said. Once, about age 12, he came running home to tell her, “The cops are coming! The cops are coming!” Upon questioning, he explained that there was a couch cushion on fire in a field and then, suddenly, there were sirens.
“He said, `Well, Mom, we set it on fire.’ ” Why? “ `Well, we were cold,’ ” she recalled him saying. (At the time, she said, it was about 89 degrees out.) Jake added that they had tried to put the fire out. How? “We peed on it.”
Another family story: When he was 12, he tried to buy condoms at the 7-Eleven, just as a joke.
“If there’s anything crazy out there no one else will do, Jake will be the one to instigate it or activate it. Jake was the party starter.”
—Laura MecklerBack to top Read more
Cody Gifford-Coffman, 22
Cody Gifford-Coffman was an athlete, umpire and big brother who had planned on joining the U.S. Army before he was killed, said his father, Jason Coffman.
“He was on his way to fulfill his dream of serving the country,” the father said outside the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where families are gathering. At times he was so overwhelmed that he could not speak, leaning on his father-in-law to steady himself.
“My firstborn son,” Jason Coffman said. “I am speechless and heartbroken.”
By early afternoon, a birthday post that the father wrote for his son on Facebook had drawn dozens of comments offering condolences from strangers across the country.
He said Gifford-Coffman had just moved in with him and was a big brother to 6- and 8-year-old boys. Jason Coffman’s wife is expecting a daughter at the end of the month, and Gifford-Coffman was thrilled at the prospect of having a sister.
He said his son leaves “a legacy of love and laughter,” and his biggest goal in life was to be a good big brother.
Teylor Whittler, age 19, was a high school friend of Gifford-Coffman’s, and said she was with him at the bar Wednesday night. She said the two of them were paired up for a rally when she was a cheerleader and he, a football player.
“He’s just a teddy bear,” she said in a phone interview. “He literally was so caring and had the most infectious smile.”
She added: “He was the type of person who would literally take a bullet for anyone, and when we heard he didn’t come out, I knew he was trying to help people live.”
Jason Coffman said he coached his son’s baseball teams starting when he was a little boy and that Gifford-Coffman was the head umpire in a local baseball league. The father and son were very close, playing baseball and fishing together.
The Conejo Valley Little League in Thousand Oaks mourned Gifford-Coffman’s passing on Twitter. “Hug your players close tonight, as Camarillo Pony Baseball mourns the loss of former player, [and] current umpire,” the league wrote.
Jason Coffman said he last saw his son as he was heading out last night. “I said, don’t drink and drive. The last thing I said was, ‘Son, I love you.’ ”
Life, he said, “is fragile. It’s precious. Life is sacred, and we should cherish it.”
—Emily Wax-ThibodeauxBack to top Read more
Within minutes of 911 calls about a gunman in a crowded bar, Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office was there to confront the shooter.
Gunfire erupted, and Helus was hit multiple times.
“He was totally committed; he gave his all,” Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said. “He died a hero. . . . He went in to save lives — to save other people.”
Helus is survived by a wife and a son, Dean said.
He had served nearly 30 years with the force and was one year from retirement. His colleagues reacted with “utter disbelief” to his death, said Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow.
“It’s shocking. It’s tragic,” Buschow said. “I’m still numb. I haven’t processed it.”
Helus lived in Moorpark, Calif., and was an avid outdoorsman whose Facebook page was full of photos of snowy mountains, fishing trips, waterfalls, the serene waters of the San Joaquin River and family. On some backcountry trips, he would see more bald eagles and deer than people, he said on Facebook.
“I’ve probably had 200 bear and 3 mountain lion encounters,” Helus told a Facebook friend who jokingly asked if he were part animal.
Helus was the owner and founder of a business that educated people in safe and legal gun use, called Gun Control: Firearms Training and CCW Instruction, according to his Facebook page.
Helus did what he was trained to do, Dean said. The 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Colorado transformed the way law enforcement responds to active-shooter incidents, Dean explained. Before then, officers and first responders secured a perimeter and waited.
Now, training has emphasized aggressive pursuit of suspects before they kill more people or target those already wounded.
“When you get to a scene, and there’s two of you, or even just one of you, and there’s shooting going on, you go in,” Dean said.
Dean choked up when asked how the department will honor Helus.
“It’s so tragic losing Ron,” Dean said. “We go to the gym together, work out together. It’s horrific and terrible, and it saddens our hearts.”
One thing was clear, colleagues said: Helus was heroic.
“There’s nothing else you can call it,” Buschow said. “Ron didn’t wait — he went in.”
Helus graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2016 with a master’s degree in administrative leadership from the school’s College of Professional and Continuing Studies, according to a university spokeswoman.
Helus was an excellent student devoted to making the world a better and safer place, according to Martha Banz, the school’s Extended Campus interim dean and associate provost.
“He was a ‘shining star’ student,” she said, “one of the best and most responsible I’ve ever had.”
Banz said Helus had planned to pursue doctoral work after he retired and that “it was clear that he was a person of impeccable character and integrity — wise, compassionate, reflective and insightful.”
Helus had three favorite quotes, Banz said: “It’s not about me,” “There’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” and “Live your life so that the fear of death never enters your heart.”
“Given those bedrock principles, I’m not at all surprised by his heroic actions, sacrificing his own life to save others. He loved his family and friends deeply, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of loss his family is experiencing,” she said.
—Alex Horton, Lindsey Bever and Susan SvrlugaBack to top Read more
Alaina Housley, 18
On social media, Alaina Housley portrayed an idyllic college life at Pepperdine University, which sits not far from the beach in picture-perfect Malibu, Calif. She had just started school there and appeared to have nurtured a strong network of friends.
In a statement, her parents said Housley was everything they could have hoped for in a child — “kind, smart, beautiful and respectful.”
“She would have enjoyed the public debate that is certain to happen after this tragedy. But she would have insisted that it be respectful with an eye toward solving these senseless shootings,” they wrote.
Her uncle, former television reporter Adam Housley, initially confirmed that Alaina Housley was among those killed.
Pepperdine also issued a statement. “Our hearts are broken with the news of this profound loss,” the school said on Twitter.
In one photo from September with three other young women, Housley suggests they were in the midst of sorority recruitment. “These girls are my sisters no matter who we choose,” she wrote.
On Instagram, there were photos of her going to see a musical, visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and visiting the beach, donning a floral swimsuit, and goofing around with her roommate.
Marcia Battat has known Alaina and her family for many years, and recalled teaching her piano beginning at age 5.
“She always wrote me little notes and drawings saying how much she loved the piano and me,” she said. “She just was an all-around very delightful young lady and it was wonderful to watch her grow through the years.”
She said the news of her death was devastating. “I was shaking when I heard about it. I can’t believe it,” she said. “She was wonderful.”
Her aunt, the actress Tamera Mowry-Housley, said she was heartbroken, recalling a special bond with her niece.
“I was blessed to know you ever since you were 5. You stole my heart. I will miss our inside jokes, us serenading at the piano,” she wrote on Instagram. “Thank you for being patient with me learning how to braid your hair, and I will never forget our duet singing the national anthem at Napa’s soccer game.”
—Moriah Balingit and Laura MecklerBack to top Read more
Dan Manrique, 33
It wasn’t easy for Dan Manrique after he left the Marine Corps. As he resumed life in California, Manrique was drawn to Team Red, White & Blue, a group that helps veterans adjust. First, he was a volunteer, and then, just weeks ago, he became a full-time program manager.
So it was the “ultimate irony” that he was killed allegedly by another Marine veteran, one obviously in need of mental health care, said Manrique’s brother, Marcos Manrique.
“He was a very selfless person, always trying to give back, to help in any way,” said his brother, who lived with Manrique and their parents in their childhood home. He said Manrique was always looking for ways to help. “He didn’t care about if he got hurt, as long as he was there to help people.”
He also knew how to have fun. His hobbies included hiking, biking, photography, learning the craft of brewing and watching the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to a bio posted online by Team Red, White & Blue.
“He was always adventurous, always curious,” his brother said.
Manrique volunteered for the Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan as a radio operator about 2007. He served for six years, then returned to Southern California, where he worked in the entertainment industry, mortgage servicing and financial planning, according to his online bio.
Coming home wasn’t easy, his brother said. He said Manrique did not talk about details of his service, but “I knew he had the night terrors.”
In 2012, he began as a volunteer for Team Red, White & Blue, which works to combat the isolation many veterans feel. He gained more responsibilities and had just been named Pacific regional program manager.
“He’s just always been a really good, really strong, selfless leader. Very giving and very caring,” said J.J. Pinter, Team Red, White & Blue’s executive director. “He was exceptionally well- respected and well-known in the veteran community.”
—Laura MecklerBack to top Read more
Justin Meek, 23
Justin Meek, a recent graduate of California Lutheran University, “heroically saved lives,” the university’s president announced Thursday, but was killed in the shooting.
Chris Kimball, the school’s president, said his university learned from the family that Meek “is one of the precious lives cut short in this tragedy.”
Meek worked in the veteran resources office for two years as a work-study student, according to Jenn Zimmerman, Cal Lutheran’s veterans coordinator. “His impact will not be forgotten,” she wrote in a statement. “His gregarious and outgoing attitude allowed him to instantly bond with the veterans who entered the office. . . . He was a kind and compassionate person who really cared for others.”
She said Meek had a passion for doing what was right, so she wasn’t surprised he took action to protect others at the bar. He had studied criminal justice at Cal Lutheran.
Meek loved singing in choir, she said. He performed the national anthem at graduation and was planning to sing with the Disneyland carolers for the holiday season.
He was planning to join the U.S. Coast Guard, Zimmerman wrote, a compromise between his Air Force veteran mother and his Navy SEAL father.
On his Facebook page, Meek had a photo of himself playing guitar.
Daniel Manrique wrote, “When does the album drop?”
Manrique was also killed in the shooting.
A woman who answered the phone at Azar’s Sports Bar & Grill, where Meek worked, said through tears that employees there are devastated.
Kimball said the campus would gather at 11:25 a.m. Thursday in Samuelson Chapel to mourn. At 6 and at 7:30 p.m. in the same chapel, there will be a Catholic Rosary service and a campus gathering, respectively. “We will pray, begin to comfort one another in our grief, and hold the families, friends and loved ones of the victims in our hearts,” he wrote. “Cal Lutheran wraps its arms around the Meek family and other families, and around every member of this community of caring.”
An avid cook, Meek often brought his leftovers to share, Zimmerman remembered. He was going to be the chef for the office’s Veterans Day celebration Monday. “Since he can no longer be with us,” Zimmerman wrote, “we will hold a memorial in his honor.”
—Susan SvrlugaBack to top Read more
Mark Meza, 20
Mark Meza was a friendly, outgoing employee who had a great rapport with everyone at the Sandpiper Lodge, a Santa Barbara, Calif., hotel where he worked as a housekeeper. “He was an extremely nice young man, extremely personable,” said Shawn Boteju, the hotel’s general manager.
Boteju remembered how happy Meza was when he received a hoverboard as a gift from his father, and how well Meza learned to use it. “It’s a shock — such a young guy.”
On a Facebook page, Meza wrote that he had studied photography at Santa Barbara City College. Luz Reyes-Martin, a college spokeswoman, said Meza last studied there in 2014. “The entire [Santa Barbara City College] community mourns this tragic loss of bright, young, promising lives. We send our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the victims. We are heartbroken to learn of Mark’s death.”
Heather Ntem, an employee with the Kelly Marsh Team at Cornerstone Home Lending, wrote in an email, “The family asks for privacy during this time. They are grateful for the love, support, and prayers from their family, friends, and community.”
—Susan SvrlugaBack to top Read more
Kristina Morisette, 20
Brandon Bohning remembers Kristina Morisette all the way back to kindergarten. They were good friends, he said, through elementary school and saw each other regularly since then.
“She was the cool girl in the group,” he said. “She had a lot of friends. Every time I saw her, she was always just so friendly, so caring. She just brought a good vibe everywhere she went.”
He said she worked as a cashier at Borderline Bar & Grill, and witnesses said she was probably the first person the shooter saw after entering the bar.
“She had a lot of genuine friends and a lot of friends who cared about her,” he said.
Joseph Kaesberg, 19, a friend since high school, recalled that Morisette was always there when friends needed her — like the time he had to put down his dog. Morisette called and texted to check on Kaesberg and asked if he wanted to grab lunch or dinner, just to get out of the house.
“She was always so full of life, so happy, such a positive person, always brought so much enjoyment and peace to everything,” he said.
She had just returned from Texas a few days ago, where she was interviewing for an internship training police dogs, Kaesberg said. “She told some of us it went really well,” he said.
—Laura MecklerBack to top Read more
Telemachus Orfanos, 27
Telemachus Orfanos was a Navy veteran who survived last year’s mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas only to perish in a hail of bullets at the Borderline Bar & Grill.
His father, Marc Orfanos, described his son, who went by “Tel,” as a gregarious and kind-hearted young man who made friends easily and traversed the globe in search of new experiences.
He was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouting program, and played the tuba in elementary school. In high school, he enjoyed history.
Two years after his 2009 graduation from Thousand Oaks High School, Orfanos went into the Navy. He was stationed on Whidbey Island, in Washington state, and in the Far East, where crews were “trolling for Chinese and North Korean submarines,” his father said. He went as far north as the northern part of the Sea of Japan and all the way down to Indonesia.
“He wanted to serve his country,” his father said. “And he wanted to see the world.”
When he was in training in San Diego, he and his friends would hop on the train and head up to Thousand Oaks to stay at his family’s home for the weekend. “His buddies would crash on the floor,” recalled his 63-year-old father, a semi-retired substitute teacher.
Orfanos enlisted in 2011 and served as a sonar technician surface seaman, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy. He left the service in December 2013 and was awarded a National Defense Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon.
Orfanos is also survived by his mother and his younger brother.
After about two-and-a-half years in the Navy, Orfanos moved home to Thousand Oaks, where he had lived most of his life. He began work at a local Infiniti dealership.
He liked a variety of music, including country music, his father said. He especially enjoyed the “sense of camaraderie” at Borderline Bar & Grill, the largest country dance hall and live music venue in Ventura County. Several of his friends who had been with him Wednesday night were “crying uncontrollably” when they learned of his death, his father said.
Mark Wermers, the scoutmaster of Orfanos’s Boy Scout troop, recalled him as a quiet but hardworking and dedicated teenager. Wermers said Orfanos was principled and lived his life by Boy Scout values. He said he imagined Orfanos was helping people in his final moments.
“He was a great Boy Scout,” Wermers said.
The senior Orfanos said his son was at the Route 91 Harvest festival last year in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire from a high-rise hotel. His son was enlisted by paramedics to help drag the bodies of the dead and injured from the line of fire, he said.
“He was a very kind person,” Orfanos said. “He would always try to help people.”
The Navy veteran was haunted by the experience in Las Vegas, his father said, and entered therapy to cope with post traumatic stress disorder.
Orfanos was something of a gun enthusiast, his father said. But his parents wouldn’t allow him to keep a firearm in the house. And, he added, the 27-year-old recognized the need to limit access to certain high-power weapons.
After they learned of their son’s death, the parents issued an urgent call for gun control.
“I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control,” Susan Orfanos, his mother, said on local TV.
—Isaac Stanley-Becker, Moriah Balingit and Susan SvrlugaBack to top Read more
Noel Sparks, 21
Noel Sparks worked with children at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, said Shawn Thornton, senior pastor. She was such an accepting person, he said. Even if children were shy or had a discipline issue, Sparks welcomed and loved them.
“Kids just loved her,” said Thornton, who confirmed Sparks’s death. “She spent time listening to them. They were important to her.”
Sparks started attending the church as a teenager, he said, and later adopted a larger role, serving on the church’s early-childhood ministries staff. Nate Travis, children’s and middle school pastor at Calvary, remembered Sparks as a hard worker, someone who could always be counted on.
“If we said we were going to do something, we almost didn’t have to ask if she was coming. We knew she was going to be there,” he said. “She’d show up early and help set up. She’d leave late, be one of the last to leave.”
Sparks was at the church for an event for students Wednesday night, he said. True to form, Sparks was one of the last to leave, before heading to Borderline Bar & Grill, according to Travis.
Staff members at Calvary shared memories of Sparks on Thursday, recalling how much she loved the church community and working with children, Thornton said — and how much she loved to go line dancing.
“That was one of her main hobbies,” he said. “Spending time with friends, dancing and having fun.”
Thornton said he will remember Sparks’s sincere, authentic kindness toward others, especially children.
“She wanted them to know they mattered to somebody, and they mattered to her,” he said. “That, I will not forget.”
—Sarah LarimerBack to top Read more
Alice Crites, Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report