Opinion

OPINION: The Thousand Oaks Massacre — That I Nearly Witnessed

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Kenneth Strange Former FBI Special Agent

Three weeks ago, my wife and I went to the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif. to take part in a Rotary-sponsored charity event. It was our first time at the Borderline, a venue jam-packed with patrons, karaoke singers and a celebrity entertainer named Patrick Cassidy.

I’ll admit — I was enjoying the show so much that I let my law enforcement guard down. I wasn’t paying attention to the exits, nor scoping out the patrons to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. Hopefully, all those security precautions were being managed by the polite security guards at the entrance. Instead, we clapped for the wannabe singers, ordered some finger food from a harried but talkative waitress and bumped into a burly middle-aged employee working hard to keep up with the incessant food and beverage orders.

On Thursday morning, my wife received a text from her sister asking about a terrible mass shooting in Thousand Oaks — at the same bar — our home of three years. We turned on the television and have been trying to process this horrific and senseless tragedy ever since. As a former law enforcement officer, the loss of the heroic deputy hit home especially hard. I was fortunate to line up with my neighbors on the street and salute his hearse as the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department took him home.

Regrettably, mass shootings are tragic events that often seem distant and removed. Those events happen to other people, in places such as Miami or Pittsburgh, but never so uncomfortably close to home. I empathize with the victims, but without knowing them, it often seems impersonal.

Wednesday night changed all that.  My heart sank when I saw their photos. The pretty 20-year-old waitress who served us and joked about the karaoke singers’ costumes had been obliterated by a high-powered handgun. Her name was Kristina. The burly fellow wearing the Hawaiian shirt who bumped into me (and excused himself) was dead as well, having taken it upon himself to rush the shooter. His name was Sean. Having formed a connection, albeit tenuous, with the victims, I tried to picture their last moments. It proved too dark and too sad.

What do we know about the shooter? He was from Thousand Oaks, was a pretty good high school baseball player, and a former U.S. Marine Corp corporal who served a year in Afghanistan. Colleagues and friends said he was a good soldier and an even better friend. The soldier came home from war only to wallow in a divorce and reject help from those who offered it, precipitating a descent into darkness.

What trauma leads a young man down the path of self- destruction and murder, even mocking others in social media while he is still committing the crime? We need to know.

In the spirit of making America great again, I have a request for our president and legislative branch. Can we unite in the name of public safety to minimize these senseless tragedies, which will continue to plague our country until we become callous to the carnage or revolted by its mayhem?

I am not naive. With competing political agendas and self-interest groups to contend with, it will not be easy. It will be no quick fix. It will require the will to change. And it may very well involve significant roles from disparate agencies and disciplines including law enforcement, mental health professionals, the military, the gun industry, the NRA and our political leaders. A commission enlisting the best and the brightest may be called for. I may not fall under those categories, but I would like to help. I think many citizens would be interested.

All Americans should have a right to live in peace rather than fear. We owe it to the victims of the Borderline shooting, and those of us they left behind, to do more.

Kenneth Strange served on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark, New Jersey and as Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General in Los Angeles. He is now the vice president of business development for an international investigative services company.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.