Victims of Thousand Oaks shooting were full of hope and heroism

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By James Rainey and Dareh Gregorian

THOUSAND OAKS, California — A father’s desperate search for his son ended in crushing heartbreak in Thousand Oaks on Thursday.

“I’ve been here fighting for him all morning long, and we did just get the news that he was one of the [12] that were killed last night,” the man, Jason Coffman, told reporters, choking back tears. “His name was Cody Coffman, my first-born son.”

“Only him and I know home much I love … how much I miss, miss him,” Coffman said, holding his fist to his heart as he struggled to speak. “Oh, son! I love you so much.”

Cody Coffman, 22, a youth baseball coach who’d planned to join the Army, according to his dad, was one of the dozen people who were slain when a gunman opened fire inside Borderline Bar and Grill.

Justin Meek, 23, an alumnus of California Lutheran University, was killed, as well. The university said he “heroically saved lives in the incident.”

Cal Lutheran students said witnesses told them that Meek jumped in front of his sister and others to shield them.

“Everything he did was really brave,” said Meek’s friend Lala Lyman, who wasn’t at the bar. “It was heroic. We lost someone truly great.”

IMAGE: Justin Meek
Justin Meek.via Facebook

“Cal Lutheran wraps its arms around the Meek family and other families, and around every member of this community of caring,” the university said on its website.

Meek graduated from Cal Lutheran in May — as did his mother, friends told NBC News.

Meek enjoyed the country-themed Borderline because he loved line dancing, pals said — he’d even founded Cal Lutheran’s line dancing club. He’d promoted Wednesday’s “College Country Night” event on his Instagram page.

Sean Adler, 48, a married father of two, was working at Borderline to make extra money, his sister Valarie Adler told NBC Los Angeles.

“From what I understand, Sean tried to disarm” the shooter, Adler said. “That is typical of Sean. He was a protector, always sticking up for people. He was a caring, compassionate individual. I just don’t understand. I don’t understand the world.”

Also gunned down while trying to save lives was Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

Helus, 54, was married with a son. He called his wife just before he went into the bar, where he was killed in a shootout with the gunman.

“I gotta go. I love you, I’ll call you later,” his boss, Sheriff Geoff Dean, quoted him as saying.

Image: Sgt. Ron Helus
Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus.Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department

Helus “gave his all, and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero,” Dean said.

Another victim was Alaina Housley, 18, a student at Pepperdine University and the niece of the actress Tamera Mowry-Housley.

Mowry-Housley and her husband, former Fox News correspondent Adam Housley, spent the night trying to find out what had happened to Tamera. Housley, who went to Los Robles Medical Center at 3:30 in the morning to look for her, told the Los Angeles Times that he feared the worst because her Apple Watch and her iPhone showed that her location was still at the bar.

“My gut is saying she’s inside the bar, dead,” he told the paper. “I’m hoping I’m wrong.”

Hours later, he discovered he wasn’t.

IMAGE: Alaina Housley
Alaina Housley.via Facebook

“Our heart is broken,” the couple said in a statement. “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.”

Law enforcement officials identified the shooter as Ian David Long, a former Marine.

Another of the slain, Daniel Manrique, was a former Marine, as well.

“My brother was a veteran who wanted to help fellow recovering veterans in re-entering society and gave his all to supporting veteran mental health,” his brother Marcos Manrique wrote on Instagram, according to NBC Los Angeles. “He ran in to help people escape the violence and ultimately gave his life protecting others. Describing the pain would not do it justice. I’ll be remembering a hero, a brother, and a role model.”

Jason Coffman, 41, spoke to reporters outside of Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where relatives searching for loved ones who were unaccounted for had been told to gather.

IMAGE: Cody Coffman
Cody Coffman.Courtesy Jason Coffman

Coffman said he had last spoken to his son right before he left to go out with friends to the Borderline Bar — a Wednesday night ritual.

“I talked to him last night before he headed out the door. First thing I said was, ‘Please don’t drink and drive.’ The last thing I said was, ‘Son, I love you.’ That was the last thing I said,” Coffman recalled, melting into tears.

Coffman told the Times that he had been awakened by his son’s friends pounding on his door at about 1 a.m. telling him that there had been a shooting at the bar — and that they couldn’t find Cody, who’d gone to buy his friends a round of drinks.

Cody had three younger brothers and a little sister on the way, Coffman said.

“I cannot believe this has happened to my family,” Coffman said. “I am speechless and heartbroken.”

Noel Sparks, 21, was a student at Moorpark College, the Press Enterprise newspaper of Riverside reported. Her death was confirmed by her church, United Methodist Westlake Village.

Three other victims were identified later Thursday afternoon: Telemachus Orfanos, Kristina Morisette and Blake Dingman. Little information about them was immediately available.

James Rainey reported from Thousand Oaks. Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.

Alex Johnson contributed.



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