They found themselves in a terrifyingly familiar scene Wednesday night, when bullets began flying once again.
The massacre was the latest mass killing in the United States and was sure to revive the debate on gun control.
The gunman was tall and wearing all black with a hood and his face partly covered, witnesses told TV stations.
He said he and others smashed their way out of the bar onto a balcony and then jumped down to safety.
On Thursday, authorities provided an update on the shooting. Helus was one of the first responders at the scene, three minutes later, Dean said. The gun was legally purchased, he added.
Three of the deadliest mass shootings in USA modern history have occurred since October 2017.
Shootings of any kind are extremely rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Los Angeles, just across the county line.
"Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff's sergeant who was totally committed", Dean said, "and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives".
"It's a horrific scene in there", Dean said in the parking lot.
Dean estimated that 10 to 15 people, including one with a gunshot wound, had gone to area hospitals.
Cacho Castaña fue internado anoche por un cuadro bronquial
Esta madrugada, Cacho Cataña debió ser internado de emergencia en el Sanatorio Los Arcos de Palermo por un cuadro bronquial . El músico de 76 años se encuentra en la unidad coronaria y se aguardan mayores precisiones sobre su estado de salud.
"He went in to make it so that other people are OK, you know". The bar was hosting its weekly "College Country Night" when the incident was reported around 11.20 pm. Once safely outside, the uninjured hugged and awaited word about those still inside. He died at the hospital.
Jason Coffman received the news that his son Cody, 22, who was about to join the Army, was dead.
A third friend who did not want to be publicly identified said Long stopped communicating two years ago but said the shooting was unlike him.
They also were concerned that Long might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Dean said, "basing that (on) the fact that he was a veteran and had been in the Corps".
"They found 11 victims that had been killed", said Dean of the first response unit before detailing that the death of Helus brought the toll to 12, not including the gunman.
Police have not identified a motive.
Witnesses said a man fired several shots from a handgun before tossing smoke bombs into the crowded bar. Mental health specialists talked with Long and determined that no further action was necessary.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials were seen visiting a residence believed to be Long's in Newbury Park, California, which neighbors Thousand Oaks. The extent of the victim's injuries has not yet been released.
"I mind my own business and they did theirs too", he said in a brief telephone interview.
"Great bravery shown by police".
Helus was on the phone with his wife Karen when he got the call that there was a shooting.
Despite his tender home life, Helus was also a dedicated "cop's cop" who never shied away from a tough assignment, spending much of his career on the SWAT team and working narcotics, Buschow said.