Thousand Oaks, Calif., where 12 people were gunned down at a nightclub Wednesday evening, is considered one of the safest cities in the United States.
The sprawling suburb, with a population of around 128,000 and a very low crime rate, is nestled 40 kilometres west of Los Angeles, in the foothills of Santa Monica Mountains.
“We are consistently ranked one of the highest with respect to the lowest crime rate per capita; we’re proud of that,” Thousand Oaks mayor Andy Fox told CNN.
But the perception of a safe city changed Wednesday evening when 28-year-old Ian Long walked inside the Borderline Bar and Grill, a popular venue with college students in the suburb area, and opened fire in the nightclub packed with hundreds of people.
Twelve victims and the shooter died. One of the victims was Sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the department who was one of the first officers to arrive on scene and was shot multiple times.
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The shooter was armed with a Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun with an extended magazine that he purchased legally, police said. Witnesses also said he threw a smoke grenade before opening fire.
Erika Sigman, 19, told the Los Angeles Times she began to race toward an exit as soon as screams erupted.
“I’m a Thousand Oaks resident,” she said. “This is a safe place. My parents let me go here. This is a trusted place. … To know that this happened in my safe place is a very, very scary thing.”
Wednesday nights are college-themed nights open to students as young as 18, according to the bar’s website.
“I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what community you’re in,” Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told reporters when asked if he was surprised this happened in Thousand Oaks. “It doesn’t matter how safe your community is. It can happen anywhere.”
Thousand Oaks’ mayor told CNN that in this day and age, mass shootings like this can strike anywhere.
“The reality is that these types of incidents can happen really at any place, at any time, even in communities that are considered extremely safe,” he said.
Thousand Oaks residents took to Twitter after the shooting, many saying their sense of safety in the city has now shifted.
Earlier this year, a rash of school shootings, in Parkland, Florida; Marshall County, Kentucky; and Santa Fe, Texas, sparked a wave of activism around gun-control laws.
Parkland was also rated one of the safest cities in the U.S. before a gunman killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.