On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the American people voted. The Republicans kept the Senate. And the Democrats regained the majority of the House of Representatives. I assumed that those facts would be my next byline story. Instead, on Nov. 7, an ex-marine with PTSD walked into the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, took out a gun and killed 12 innocent victims and injured over 20 people in what has become one of the darkest days in Ventura County history. As we continue as a country to decompress after these mass-shooting tragedies, the solutions are not simple, and the questions continue to become more complex. But instead of trying to figure out political moves, one thing we can, and should, all agree on is that on that sad day in Thousand Oaks, there were true heroes we can all aspire to be like.
One such hero was 23-year-old Justin Meek, a Borderline promoter and bouncer who was shot while saving the lives of others, helping them escape. He was a Cal Lutheran graduate and Disneyland performer. A man like this, sacrificing himself for others, deserves to be remembered for his bravery. “He was one of the sweetest guys we ever met. He gave his life protecting other lives,” said friend Tony Duran.
Another hero was Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Ron Helus, the man who went in first and was killed by the shooter.
“I don’t think there’s anything more heroic than what he did,” Sgt. Eric Buschow said. “He went in there to save lives. He took decisive action, and it’s just a tragic loss for us. This was in his blood. He had just a natural instinct for going after crooks, and he did it with enthusiasm, with a great deal of intelligence.”
Helus ran a private business teaching gun safety to people seeking permits to carry concealed weapons, and he was a firearms instructor for sheriff’s recruits at a basic training academy. This was a man who served his county and country with pride and was beloved.
Helus also happened to be the father and uncle to two of my former students from my teaching days. His son was my Outstanding English Student in 2012, and we still stay in communication to this day. His nephew made me laugh every day in class, and both young men came to see me when I started doing standup comedy to support me. Helus and his wife, Karen, were always so kind to me when they’d see me around school or in Ventura County. When I first saw his name in the news, I didn’t put two and two together, but then later that day, it broke me to my core.
So often we see these horror stories play out, and the shooter becomes the star of the story. That needs to stop. The focus should really be on those victims and the ones who tried to help. In our divided country filled with social media battles and tribal politics, looking to the decent and heroic would be a much better way to focus our energies. Yes, we have political issues to discuss, but if we forget about the everyday people, as unique individuals, then what’s the point of discussing those issues if we forget the faces of those we are trying to help?
Justin Meek and Ron Helus are reminders that people can rise above fear and sacrifice for the safety of others. In a culture obsessed with comic book heroes, these men truly are the inspiration and archetypes of what DC’s Superman and Marvel’s Captain America try to represent.
We too often look at only tragedy and forget the heroes. There’s a quote by Fred Rogers that I’m reminded of whenever these stories make the paper:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
Justin Meek and Ron Helus were two of those people.