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Nov. 8, 2018 / 8:39 AM GMT / Updated 7:23 PM GMT

By Alexander Smith, Pete Williams, Andrew Blankstein, Alastair Jamieson and Corky Siemaszko

A Marine veteran clad in black and armed with a .45-caliber Glock handgun shot his way into a Southern California bar crowded with college students and unleashed hell before turning the gun on himself, officials said Thursday.

When it was over, 12 others, including a police officer who tried to stop the carnage, were also dead and many more were wounded.

While investigators identified the gunman as 28-year-old Ian David Long and tried to establish a motive, the nation was once again forced to grapple with tragedy and embark on the all-too-familiar rituals of mourning after yet another mass shooting.

Nov. 8, 201801:49

When the shooting started late Wednesday at the Borderline Bar & Grill in normally peaceful Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles, several hundred people were inside for a “college country night,” Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

“It’s a horrific scene in there,” Dean said. “There’s blood everywhere.”

The sheriff said the gunman first shot a security guard standing outside, then “stepped inside, turned to the right, shot several other security and employees and began opening fire inside the nightclub.”

He added, “We have no idea what the motive is at this point.”

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As police prepared to search the suspect’s home, Dean said Long had a history of minor run-ins with police. As recently as April, he said, deputies were called to his house after reports of a disturbance, and they found Long to be “somewhat irate,” and “acting a little irrationally.”

There was some discussion about whether Long might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Dean added. But ultimately Long was assessed by a mental health specialist who cleared him and didn’t feel he was eligible to be taken in for involuntary psychiatric evaluation.

Dean said Long was also the victim of an assault at a bar in 2015, the sheriff said.

The weapon Long used in Wednesday night’s shooting was a legally purchased Glock 21 with an extended magazine, Dean said. Long, who officials had earlier described as a heavily tattooed white man, did not appear to be carrying a driver’s license or any other form of IDs, Dean said earlier on “Today.”

Officer ‘died a hero’

The slain police officer was identified as Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year police veteran with a wife and son who was looking to retire in the next year.

“He was hard-working, he was totally committed, he gave his all and, tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero,” an emotional Dean said. “He gave his life to save other people.”

Helus, 54, spoke to his wife by phone just before he went inside the bar, telling her, “I gotta go, I love you, call you later,” according to Dean.

President Donald Trump sent two tweets paying tributes to the authorities and victims. He praised the “great bravery shown by police” and said, “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.”

As Helus’ body was carried by hearse from Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks to a coroner’s facility in the city of Ventura, residents lined the highway and many saluted the passing motorcade.

Meanwhile, the grieving father of 22-year-old victim, Cody Coffman, was mourning his slain son.

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