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Young people with 'so much life ahead' of them: These are the Thousand Oaks victims  6 Days ago

Source:   USA Today  

Telemachus Orfanos saw too much horror. 

First, he survived last year's massacre at a Las Vegas country music festival, where 58 people were slain. He was also at the Borderline Bar and Grill on Wednesday night, when a gunman, dressed in black, killed 12 people.

One of them was Orfanos who went by the nickname Tel. He was 27.

"My son was in Las Vegas with a lot of his friends, and he came home. He didn't come home last night," his mother, Susan Schmidt-Orfanos, told a local TV reporter. "I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control."

A 2009 graduate of Thousand Oaks High School who spent 2 1/2 years in the U.S. Navy, Orfanos was at the Borderline Bar and Grill to meet friends for dinner, his father, Marc, told the Ventura County Star of the USA TODAY Network.

"It’s particularly ironic that after surviving the worst mass shooting in modern history, he went on to be killed in his hometown," he said.

Orfanos, who was godfather to Gregory Krisilas's daughter, was an Eagle Scout who protected those who needed help, Krisilas said.

"He survived the Vegas massacre last year where he spent the whole night carrying injured and assisting first responders," Krisilas told USA TODAY. "There are too many people with guns that shouldn't have them."

Authorities named Friday all the victims in the attack at the bar in Thousand Oaks, California, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles. Police said the gunman, identified as Ian David Long, opened fire inside the country-western dance bar with a Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun, killing at least 11 victims at the scene. 

Ron Helus, a sergeant with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, later died from his injuries after confronting the shooter. Long was also found dead inside the establishment. 

The bar was hosting an event for college students and was crowded with 19- to 25-year-olds, Sheriff Geoff Dean said. It was the deadliest mass shooting since 17 students and teachers were killed in February at a school in Parkland, Florida. 

Daniel Manrique, 33, was a Marine Corps veteran who started the Ventura County chapter of Team Red, White and Blue in 2014 to help fellow veterans make the transition from military to civilian life, says friend Sara Bergeron. 

"I've never met anyone my whole life that was so selfless and committed to helping veterans succeed and just thrive. He never quit on people. He never gave up, even if someone tried to push him away. He always still reached out," said Bergeron, who served in the Navy and met Manrique when she was president of the veterans club at California Lutheran University.

Bergeron suspects her friend struggled with PTSD himself, though he never discussed it with her. So when she first learned that the Borderline gunman had been in the Marines and may have suffered from PTSD, she thought immediately: "Wow, I wish this person had met Dan."

Then a friend texted her the awful news: Manrique died at Borderline, a victim of the gunman. 

"The shooter killed someone who could have been his lifeline, who could have helped him with his PTSD, who could have understood more than anyone what he was going through," she said. 

In fact, that's what Manrique was doing that night at Borderline, Bergeron said, "he was there to support and work with other veterans."

That's what she will remember most about him, his unwavering focus on the future and how that helped his fellow veterans look forward, too.  

"A lot of people when they separate from the military have a hard time moving past their past. He definitely honored his military service but he was focused on his current service to his current community," she said. "Instead of going into the darkness, he became a light for others to follow."

Manrique was not the only friend that Bergeron lost at Borderline. She was also friends with Justin Meek, another of the victims.

"Every story I hear from every person about that night, it lights my heart," she said. "They were heroes. They were heroes before Borderline and they still are. They lived up to who they are until the end."

Meek, 23, never stayed idle. At Coronado High School, he was an Eagle Scout, president of the Octagon Club and captain of the JV water polo team, according to his LinkedIn page.

While attending California Lutheran University, Meek studied criminal justice and kept up his water polo skills, while also taking part in choir and serving as president of Club Italia. On the rare free time he had, he worked as a lifeguard for the city of Coronado.

When the shooting started Wednesday night, Meek was working as a security guard at the Borderline Bar and Grill. He died trying to save others, according to California Lutheran and several social media postings.

Meek received his bachelor’s degree earlier this year from California Lutheran University and graduated at the same time as his mother, Laura Lynn Meek, who survives him.

Meek was "a big, huge beast of a man, a big tall man. He was a security guard, but he was also a pussycat, one of the sweetest guys in the world," Tony Duran told USA TODAY. Duran is owner of Goode Time Productions, which supplies carolers such as Meek to Disneyland and other Disney venues.

A classically trained singer with a deep, rich voice, Meek quickly memorized all 100 songs in the repertoire and dreamed of singing with his girlfriend at Disneyland's Club 33.

The two had been talking of getting married and their future together as singers, Duran said. 

"It was his dream to sing at Club 33 at Disneyland, and that's never going to happen. It was her dream to sing with him at Club 33, and that's never going to happen – all because of the stupid choice that killer made that robbed so many people of hearing Justin Meek's beautiful voice. It's senseless. 

"He was loved by so many people," Duran said. "He was just the sweetest guy you'll ever meet. He was the guy you really wanted to have as a friend because of the joy he brought."

Meek used his body to shield patrons, Duran said. "He died a hero. It's going to be hard to not have him with us."

In the early morning darkness, friends and family rushed to the scene, desperately looking for their loved ones. They repeatedly called cell phones, scanned social media sites or urged law enforcement for answers. 

Alaina Housley, a freshman at Pepperdine University, had gone to the Borderline to line dance with friends. As word of the shooting spread, her aunt, "The Real" host and "Sister, Sister" star Tamera Mowry-Housley, scoured social media, frantically looking for her niece. Mowry-Housley's husband, Adam Housley, asked his nearly 100,000 Twitter followers for prayers, as they held out hope she was OK.

By late Thursday morning, however, the couple learned Alaina Housley, 18, didn't make it out of the bar alive.

"Our hearts are broken," they 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."

At Vintage High School, Housley was an honors student who played on the varsity soccer team and served in student government all four years before graduating in June. 

Vintage High principal Sarah O'Connor remembered her as a "natural leader and connector," who was loved by her peers and the school staff. The school is offering counseling support to students and staff.

"One of my favorite moments was when Alaina, who played violin in our orchestra, had all of the violinists play happy birthday for her mom one year. Her mom is an employee here," O'Connor told USA TODAY. "She did something special for her mom, and she used her musical talent.

"She was sweet and kind, a good to the core person with great values," O'Connor said.

Marcia Battat, Housley's piano teacher from the ages of 5 to 12, said she was thrilled when Housley said she would continue with music in college.

She recalled how the young girl would show up for lessons with a smile on her face –and a drawing or a poem for Battat in her hand. Housley was musically gifted and had a soft spot for playing songs from Broadway musicals, Battat said.

"She was very creative and artistic. ... She used to say how she loved piano and she loved me. It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to teach her," she said.

On Thursday, Battat prayed Housley was not among the victims. "All of the memories I have of her keep going through my mind. It's heartbreaking. I'm still in shock," she said. 

Jason Coffman also rushed to the scene early Thursday hoping to find his first-born son, Cody.

"I cannot believe it's happened in my family," Jason Coffman, 41, told reporters shortly after learning Cody had not survived the shooting massacre. "I am speechless and heartbroken. ... My life has changed now forever."

He will miss the fishing trips with Cody, he said. He'll miss his companionship on the baseball diamond and the way his younger sons, ages 8 and 9, looked up to Cody, who was 22. Cody was due to become an older brother again: Jason Coffman and his wife are also expecting a baby girl.

Tearful and exhausted, Coffman leaned on his father-in-law, identified as Mike, standing next to him. He said he feared Cody ran toward the gunfire, not away from it. "Cody is a tough kid," Jason Coffman told Headline News. "He’s one of the kids to run toward a bully, to stand up for others. I think that’s maybe what he did."

Good with kids, Cody was the head umpire for the Camarillo Pony Baseball League and had planned to join the U.S. Army, Coffman said. 

"There are so many people he touched," he said, "who are now going to be as heartbroken as I am."

Noel Sparks, a 21-year-old college student, loved going to the Borderline Bar and Grill, so friends and family were not surprised when she posted a photo of herself dancing there Wednesday night.

Sparks was a regular at Borderline, where she spent Halloween and celebrated her 21st birthday in August. She often went there with friends and her mom.

She was majoring in art at nearby Moorpark College. "Noel taught me more than I could ever teach her – she had a gentle spirit and always engaged her classmates," Moorpark College professor Wendi Baity said in a statement. "Noel’s honesty and openness touched us all."

Sparks worked part time at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village. She helped with children's programs, the Rev. Shawn Thornton told The Associated Press.

"She loved kids. We had a lot of parents show up today to say, 'She made my child feel important and that they mattered," Thornton said.

Her aunt Patricia Sparks of Morristown, Tennessee, said police informed Sparks' father Thursday that she had died in the shooting.

"We're in shock," Patricia Sparks told the AP.

She described her niece as an "all-around good girl. She was the kind of girl that if you had friends, you'd want them to marry her."

Kristina Morisette, 20, worked as a cashier at Borderline where, as one friend put it on Facebook, her smile "welcomed me at the door each night." 

Friend Devin Cook wrote on her Facebook page: "You were just the sweetest girl I’ve ever met... you are the last person that deserved such a sudden fate. RIP beauty. Thank you for always putting a smile on my face."

The Simi Valley High School graduate's favorite quote, according to her Facebook page: "Don't over think it just let it go."

Morisette's world revolved around her friends, her parents Michael and Martha told the Los Angeles Times. With money she saved from working at Borderline, she had recently bought her first car: a 2017 Jeep Renegade. She had recently told her parents she wanted to apply for an animal training program in Austin.

"We didn’t want her life to end," her mother told the newspaper. "But we don’t want her memories now to end, either."

Sean Adler, 48, a father of two, worked as a bouncer at Borderline and at nearby Azar’s Sports Bar and a strength and conditioning coach at Royal High School. In August, he realized a dream and opened a coffee shop, Rivalry Roasters, in a Simi Valley strip mall.

In an interview with The Star in October, Adler described the business as a “really micro-roastery” for organic, fair-trade beans sourced from Brazil, Guatemala and Papua New Guinea. He served coffee in a variety of forms — from pour-overs to cappuccinos — along with a different flavor of iced tea on nitro each day. In keeping with his interest in sustainable practices, Adler donated the coffee grounds to the Simi Valley Community Garden for use as compost.

His sister, Valerie Adler, told NBC News that as the gunman opened fire, Adler tried to disarm him. 

"It’s absolutely the kind of thing he would do," Danny Evans, a childhood friend, told the Orange County Register. "He just loved people."

Dunham, 21, was at Borderline that night with his friend Blake Dingman, who also died. Both of them were off-road enthusiasts. 

No Sways Offroad organized a memorial off-road meet for Monday to honor "our fallen brothers Blake and Jake." "I know we're all heartbroken so let's send them off in a way they'd want," the organizers wrote on Instagram.

A recent graduate of Conejo Valley High School, Dunham persevered in receiving his diploma despite an accident as a young child that robbed him of his sight in one eye, said Jason Rosebaugh, one of his teachers.

"Jacob was well liked by his peers and will be remembered for his perseverance," Rosebaugh said.

Dunham was not particularly fond of school, but loved his truck, which he bought with savings from a part-time job and fixed up with his dad.

"He was really proud of that truck and wanted to get a diploma and move onto mechanics school," Rosebaugh said.

Dunham's father, Ken, told NBC News early Thursday that he had tried repeatedly to reach his son after the shootings. "I keep calling it but there's no answer," he said. Ken Dunham declined to speak with USA TODAY.

Blake Dingman, 21, was a young man just starting to come into his own, said his mother Lorrie Dingman.

A Newbury Park resident, he had worked in the commercial electrical field since high school and had just been called and offered a new job working for a local company, according to his family.

Dingman was someone who had constant grease under his fingernails. He loved working on cars, motorcycles and from a young age loved taking things apart to see how they worked. “He could fix anything mechanical… even if he wasn’t exactly sure how… that didn’t stop him,” his mother said in an email to USA TODAY.

He had a large group of friends who loved going to the desert and to the mountains to ride motorcycles or ride the trails in his Ford Ranger. He and his friend Jake Dunham, who also was killed at Borderline, were always in the center of the fun.  

“Blake had a zest and joy for living life to the fullest. No gathering was complete without Blake… His laughter and smile were so special and whenever you talked to him, he was genuinely interested in you… and always, always had a smile on his face,” said his mother.

He was also very patriotic. He and Dunham and their friends would go on a “Flag Run” every year on the Fourth of July, in which they mounted large American flags on their trucks and would drive for miles from Ventura County through Los Angeles, honoring the flag and all it represents, his family said.

His mom said he was always her helper as the family prepared to go boating or on a camping trip. “He was the one who made sure everything was in order, fixed and ready to go. I’m going to miss his hugs and his heart. He gave the best hugs and always told me he loved me. I am in utter disbelief that I will not be able to hold or hug my son again,” she said.

Mark "Marky" Meza, who grew up in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and and graduated from Carpinteria High School, worked at Borderline as a busboy and food runner and was just shy of his 21st birthday, his family told a Santa Barbara television station.

"Marky was a loving and wonderful young man who was full of life and ambition," Meza’s family said in a statement to KEYT. "His family is devastated by his loss. Marky would have turned 21 on November 19. His family asks for peace and respect at this time to allow them to grieve privately."

On Facebook, his mother simply wrote: "My heart has never been so broken."

Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus was among the first to arrive on the scene, entering the bar with a California Highway Patrol officer. Helus exchanged gunfire with the suspect, identified by authorities as Ian David Long, before being shot multiple times. Helus died at the hospital Thursday morning.

Helus, a 29-year veteran of the department, was looking to retire "in the next year or so," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said. 

"Ron was a hard-working, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant," said Dean, trying to hold back tears. "He was totally committed. He gave his all. Tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives, to save other people." 

During an interview with CNN, Sgt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said Helus was a "true cop's cop," enthusiastic and excited about his work in law enforcement.

"He loved spending time with his son," said Buschow. "They would go fishing up in the Sierras together. My heart goes out to his family. I just can’t imagine what they’re going through right now."

Steve Mayorga worked on and off with Helus in the Ventura County Sheriff's Office for almost 30 years. He heard of Helus's death when scrolling through Facebook and seeing multiple posts of a Ventura County Sheriff's badge with a black band over it, the sign of a fallen officer. When Mayorga heard it was Helus who died, and that it happened when Helus rushed inside to try to save someone, he was devastated but not surprised. 

"That's who Ron was," said Mayorga, who retired two years ago. "He was very dedicated to his job. When people call him a 'cop's cop,' what they're saying is that he was the type of cop who other cops looked up to, someone who goes beyond what a normal cop does." 

Helus, 54, is survived by his wife, Karen, and their 24-year-old son, Jordan.

Prior to heading to the scene, Helus talked to his wife, as he does several times during his shift, Dean said: "Hey, I gotta go handle a call. I love you. I’ll talk to you later."

 

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