California Shooting Victim, 22, Told Others When to Run: 'He Was My Hero and He Is Now My Angel'
Before he was killed in the Borderline Bar shooting in Thousand Oaks, Cody Coffman helped others flee the scene, his friend says
The days since she survived the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill have been exhausting for Sarah DeSon — literally: she finds sleep only in brief spells — but she won’t stop talking about what she saw.
And she won’t stop talking about her friend Cody Coffman.
“I am just very, very lucky that I was not one of the people that didn’t make it out. Even though I am mourning the loss of someone so amazing, I have nothing but love for him,” DeSon tells PEOPLE of Coffman, 22, who was one of 12 killed in the shooting on Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, California.
“I want to honor him, and every time I do one of these interviews … I am only in this to honor my friend Cody, to honor him, to get his story out there,” DeSon says.
She had been going to the Borderline for about two months when gunfire erupted late Wednesday. She was there that night to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday.
The bar, popular with local students, was hosting its weekly “College Country Night.”
Then the shooter opened fire. Cody, a “protector,” did what he could for those around him, DeSon says.
“People died for no reason. I know after I got out he was helping people because he helped me,” she says. “Without him, I don’t know what I would have done. He didn’t follow me out.”
DeSon says she and Cody had just started to become friends and she’d never met his family, but shares the sentiment of his father, Jason Coffman.
“Somebody told us he was shielding some girls at the door when the guy came in,” Jason told PEOPLE earlier this week not long after learning of his son’s death.
“That’s my boy,” he said. “He’s a hero now, that’s how I view him: as a hero.”
Cody was at the Borderline with a “bunch” of his female friends, his dad says. “They all ran, but he didn’t come behind.”
DeSon tells PEOPLE it was Cody’s quick thinking that prevented more casualties.
“He had the peace of mind to direct us toward the exit, telling us when to get down, when to get up. I remember he stood up at one point and yelled, ‘Get out!’ And I left,” she recalls. “I did what he told me to do.”
“He was my hero and he is now my angel and he will always be my hero, and I am living my life now for the both of us,” DeSon says, adding, “I survived because I listened to him. I ran for my life when he told us to.”
Cody’s father calls him his “best friend” and “the big brother that my kids need.”
Jason told PEOPLE that Cody had been living with him for less than a month and had plans to enroll in the Army. He worked for a moving company and was still working some of his rowdier behavior out of his system before he settled into young adulthood.
“He was right now in a limbo stage,” Jason said. “He was going to have fun, doing his party thing. … I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him.”
Cody was “just getting his act together,” according to his dad. “He’s been talking to recruiters and getting ready to go.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Jason said. “I’m so heartbroken right now.”
A survivor of the shooting, DeSon is not going to let its victims be forgotten.
“I have this life I get to still live and I was granted this opportunity. In the face of tragedy, I made it out,” she says. “What I saw and what happened to me, it will also haunt me. I want to honor those who can’t speak for themselves.”
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She continues: “I am doing this as part of the healing process. I want to heal others with my words. I need to talk about it. I talk to people and it somehow pushes me out of this little hole I keep crawling into. I talk to someone, and it’s like I’m reaching my hand up and someone is pulling me out.”
“I wish [Cody] could have followed behind me” during the shooting, DeSon says. “I know that he will be here with me, forever.”