First Responder Was Killed in Restaurant Mass Shooting at Same Place Where He Proposed to His Wife
Ron Helus and his then-girlfriend, Karen, were dining at a restaurant in Thousand Oaks, California, when she stepped away to go to the bathroom. She was surprised when she found a blue box with an engagement ring tucked inside her purse.
When she returned and showed it to Helus, he dropped to one knee and proposed.
Last week, more than 30 years later, he returned to that same building to try and stop an active shooting.
Helus, a 54-year-old sergeant with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed along with 11 other people at the Borderline Bar & Grill on Nov. 7. Authorities said he was shot multiple times as he entered the bar and later died at the hospital. He leaves behind his wife and their son, Jordan.
“He went into save lives, to save other people,” Sheriff Geoff Dean told reporters at the time. “He was totally committed, he gave his all, and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero.”
On Thursday, thousands of people reportedly packed the Calvary Community Church for Helus’ funeral, paying tribute to a man they frequently called a hero.
“Thank you for sharing the last 31 years of your life with me,” his wife said in a statement read aloud at the funeral. “Thank you for being you — my hero, my love and my life.”
Musician Billy Ray Cyrus was also in attendance, performing “Amazing Grace” and original song “Some Gave All.”
“Today, we’re here to honor Ron Helus,” he said. “This man is a true definition of a hero.”
Helus was one of the first on the scene of the mass shooting. He had been on the phone with his wife before responding to the call, according to the sheriff. “I love you, I’ll talk to you later,” he told her.
His bravery that night was something he had trained for throughout his career, according to Thousand Oaks Police Chief Tim Hagel.
“He was telling officers how to survive, he’s the most tactical sergeant that I’ve ever met in 34 years,” Hagel told PEOPLE. “That’s all he did — his whole drive was to get his deputies home every shift, every night. He probably told me that 400 times over the last 20 years. That was his drive. That was Ron’s calling: to protect the community.”