THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (Reuters) - Even as the South California city of Thousands Oaks reeled from a mass shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people in a bar packed with college students, a spreading wildfire forced thousands of people to flee their homes in a nearby area on Friday.
A mourner arrives with a picture of one of her friends at a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S., November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
The fire broke out to the northeast of Thousand Oaks, a suburb 40 miles (64 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, on Thursday afternoon, forcing mandatory evacuations of 75,000 homes in communities in the area.
Evacuation centers were set up in Thousand Oaks, including a teen center where during Thursday frantic parents waited for news of their children after Wednesday night’s massacre at the Borderline Bar and Grill.
The FBI was seeking to build a profile of the gunman and discover a motive for the country’s latest shooting rampage. Former U.S. Marine combat veteran Ian David Long, 28, entered the bar and opened fire before apparently killing himself, law enforcement officials said.
California Lutheran University, which just the day before canceled classes because many of its students frequented the Borderline bar, announced that although the school had not been ordered to evacuate, it would close Friday and was “monitoring the situation closely.”
The fire was one of three fast-moving wildfires burning in California on Friday morning that had caused tens of thousands to flee. One of the blazes left the Northern Californian town of Paradise in ruins.
The massacre in Thousand Oaks was the latest U.S. shooting rampage and came less than two weeks after a man shot dead 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said it was too early to speculate on the shooter’s motives but he appeared to have acted alone.
“We will be sure to paint a picture of the state of mind of the subject and do our best to identify a motivation,” Delacourt said, adding the FBI would investigate any possible “radicalization” or links to militant groups.
Long fired seemingly at random inside the Western-themed bar with a .45 caliber Glock handgun equipped with a high-capacity magazine, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
Long was in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2013 and served as a machine gunner in Afghanistan. Dean said Long may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Officers went to Long’s home in Newbury Park, about 4 miles (6 km) from the bar, in April to answer a disturbance call and found him agitated, Dean told reporters. Mental health specialists talked with Long and determined that no further action was necessary, the sheriff said.
“He was raving hell in the house, you know, kicking holes in the walls and stuff and one of the neighbors was concerned and called the police,” Richard Berge, who lived one block away from the home, told Reuters.
Berge, who looked after Long’s mother’s dogs, said she told him following that incident she worried her son might take his own life but did not fear he would hurt her.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said 21 people had been treated for injuries at area hospitals and released.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran, was killed during the shooting. He and a California Highway Patrol officer were the first to arrive to confront the gunman.
Thousand Oaks, a leafy, sprawling suburb of 127,000 people, was named the third safest city in the United States for 2018 by the Niche research company.
Jason Coffman wept as he told reporters that his son, Cody, 22, was among the dead.
“I know how I love, how much I miss him,” he said. “Oh, son, I love you so much.”
Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Carey; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry