THOUSAND OAKS (CBSLA) — It’s been almost six months since the horrific night at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, but Karen Helus has become a source of strength for the community hit hard by the tragedy, even as she grieves her husband, Sgt. Ron Helus, who died a hero in the mass shooting.
Karen Helus was understandably emotional as she and her family recently gathered at the Peace Officer’s Memorial in Ventura to see her husband’s name etched in stone.
“It’s permanent. It’s going to always be there – a place where we can always remember him,” she said.
Sgt. Ron Helus was one of two law enforcement officers who responded first to calls of a mass shooter inside the popular bar and nightclub. He would be killed in the melee, along with 11 others and the shooter, Ian Long.
Karen Helus said she felt the need to visit the scene a couple of nights after the shooting.
“I needed to understand – I needed to understand what happened, to understand how it felt and what it was like. I obviously wasn’t there that night, but I felt like I was,” she said.
The 29-year Ventura County Sheriff’s Department veteran was reportedly on the phone with his wife before going into the bar, and his final words to her were that he loved her and would call her later.
Karen Helus says she is aware the carnage could have been worse if it had not been for her husband. His sacrifice made her an integral part of a larger community that formed out of victims and survivors.
“We’re all going through some kind of grief, but we’re all in it together and it feels – we feel connected,” she says. “We feel like we understand each other a little bit.”
The grieving community includes the California Highway Patrol officer who first entered the bar with Sgt. Ron Helus. The investigation into the shooting later determined that Helus had died of friendly fire from that officer’s gun. But Karen Helus says she has nothing but love for that unidentified officer.
“I talk with him all the time. I think we help each other. I think we do,” Helus said. “He’s a hero too. He didn’t have to be there that night and neither did Ron and I look at both of them as heroes.”
But instead of being the one in need of comfort, Karen Helus more often than not is the comforter. The day her husband was honored by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, she came forward to award a plaque to a local chaplain to thank him for the memorials he made for the Borderline victims.
“Part of the relationship with Karen and her larger family helps us heal as well,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said.
And that seems to be part of the grieving process from a tragedy that touched so many people.
“Every day there’s somebody that I talk to, that comes to show up at the house, just making sure that we’re OK,” she said.