Tim Heyne had been shot — twice in fact — but he knew what he had to do.
On Memorial Day 2005 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a gunman opened fire on his neighbor as he talked to Heyne’s wife, Jan.
The Heynes had borrowed their neighbor’s boat for a weekend trip and were returning it to his driveway when Toby Whelchel, 38, whom the neighbor had a restraining order against, pulled a semiautomatic handgun and shot him twice in the chest, according to police.
Heyne was almost paralyzed at the sight of his friend being shot, but he knew Jan was in danger.
He tried to command Whelchel’s attention away from her, and that he did, drawing two bullets, including one that hit his arm — shattering his forearm — and ricocheted into his chest. Another bullet, inches from his heart, traveled into his lung.
Behind the boat and with three bullet holes in his body, Heyne moved slowly. He heard two more pops, and by the time he got back around, his wife lay on the ground with two gunshot wounds to the back, one of the two piercing her heart and killing her before she hit the ground, doctors would tell the family.
By the end of Whelchel’s rampage, he killed three people and injured five, before killing himself.
Thirteen years later, on Thursday morning in Washington, Christian Heyne — now the legislative director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence — was jolted by frantic calls and text messages from friends and family.
This week in that same community, police say 28-year-old former Marine Ian David Long shot and killed 12 people at Borderline Bar and Grill, roughly an eight-minute drive from Heyne’s old neighborhood.
Whelchel’s rampage wasn’t over.
After escaping in Heyne’s neighbor’s vehicle, police say he drove to a nearby Vons Supermarket, where he hijacked another vehicle at gunpoint. His whereabouts for the next several hours remain unknown, but after evading police for the night, he reappeared the next morning when he attempted to steal another vehicle from the home of Jeffrey and Carole Nordella.
Whelchel pistol-whipped Carole Nordella and attacked her two children, as well as their pool man before sprinting from the house. Carole Nordella, 48, later died of her injuries.
As Whelchel attempted to drive off in another stolen vehicle, a Moorpark Police Department deputy Scott Ramirez arrived at the scene. Whelchel fired at Ramirez, striking him in the shoulder before speeding off with police on his tail.
He led them to a Walmart in nearby Simi Valley, Calif., where he darted into the store, sending customers running out in terror.
There, Whelchel shot and killed himself.
Recalling the attack on his family, “I remember feeling numb,” Christian Heyne said on Thursday afternoon, still reeling from news of the latest shooting in Thousand Oaks.
He had that same feeling this week.
“I don’t want to say I don’t always get emotional, because I always get rocked, but this feels so personal,” he said.
He’s used to days like this.
In his role as legislative director for the CSGV, Christian Heyne works on enacting laws that prevent gun deaths. He also works as a survivor’s advocate, bringing him in constant contact with mourning relatives and friends. Less than two weeks earlier, Robert Gregory Bowers entered Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and shot and killed 11.
Christian Heyne said the attack on his parents was an awakening.
“We lived in — it was almost a state of apathy in Thousand Oaks," he said. "There’s two types of apathy. In Thousand Oaks, we live with, ‘Oh, it happens elsewhere. That can’t touch us here,’ and then there are the places where it happens so often, and it’s just, “This is the way it is.’ Neither are true. No community should feel like they can’t get a handle on the violence, and it’s also foolish for any community in this country to think they’re safe.”
Tim Heyne worries about his son’s unending exposure to such trauma. He was involved in the gun control movement even before he was shot and his wife killed, and his efforts locally included the formation of the first Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence chapter in Thousand Oaks and meaningful law changes, but he had to remove himself when it all got too much.
“When your life revolves around death, I worry about that a lot,” Heyne said of his son Thursday. “I ask him how he’s doing with it, but he knows he’s saving lives. . . . No one is ever going to end gun violence. All you can hope to do is reduce it."
That helps, but does not soothe the wounds.
“One person dies, and it affects 40 people exponentially, forever,” Heyne said. “The effects go on. It’s been 13 years, and thoughts and prayers still haven’t brought back my wife.”
So on Thursday, as a community reeled, surrounded by lush mountains and miles from the Pacific Ocean, a native son reeled, too, 3,000 miles away.
“I’ve spent more time crying today than I usually do,” Christian Heyne said. “Borderline . . . I’ve been to wedding receptions there. My high school reunion was there. This is different. I feel anxious. I feel lost. I am also very resolved in reaching out to everyone — legislators, survivors, everyone — and I’m determined not to let this moment slip away."
Jon Gold is a New York-based freelance features writer who regularly writes for ESPN and Billboard. He is a former sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star and Los Angeles Daily News.