PICTURED: Victim memorials at Borderline Bar and Grill. Photo by Kateri Wozny
Garrett Gratland will never forget what happened on the night of Nov. 7, 2018.
Gratland, 25, a Newbury Park resident and Army veteran, was enjoying time with friends at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks when Ian David Long, 28, a Newbury Park resident and former Marine veteran, entered the establishment with a .45-caliber handgun and began shooting. Telemachus Orfanos, 27, and Justin Meek, 23, stepped in to stop Long.
Gratland said Meek put up his arms to shield people while Orfanos wrestled Long and was stabbed. Gratland then escaped through the back door and returned through the front door to help others when he encountered Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
“He said, put your hands up! Because he thought I was the shooter at first,” Gratland said.
He later witnessed Helus getting shot and, along with another officer, helped carry him to an SUV heading to a local hospital.
Helus died a short time later. He was 54 years old.
One year later, Gratland is coping with the aftermath better than others he knew who were at Borderline that night. He was sent to the Middle East for a government contracting job one month after the shooting, which took up most of his time and energy.
“]Borderline] is not a typical bar-type place like people think, it’s a place for everyone to come hang out and [the shooting] turned everyone into better friends,” Gratland said. “[Meek and Orfanos] are heroes for sure.”
Healing Through Stories
While residents tried to make sense of that tragedy, as well as the Hill and Woolsey fires that broke out shortly thereafter, Thousand Oaks resident Shannon Savage-Howie organized the Thousand Oaks Remembers (T.O. Remembers) storytelling project in June to help community members heal and find strength through sharing stories.
The T.O. Remembers team consists of local mental health professionals, government workers, ministry workers and communication professionals.
“The team who created this whole project represents different voices from the community,” Savage-Howie said. “The whole intention is, we promote healing.”
Savage-Howie was inspired to create the storytelling project after attending something similar through The Hearth in Ashland, Ore.
“It was apparent that this is something that will be powerful in the community,” Savage-Howie said.
The storytelling project includes listening groups, written stories and a live storytelling
event. The listening groups are facilitated by 20 trained individuals that connect with community groups.
“It’s set-up as a place where people can speak their story,” Savage-Howie said. “Nothing’s recorded, they have a space to do that and people can hear others. They can also opt to write a story.”
In partnership with the Museum of Ventura County, T.O. Remembers is also gathering written stories to be shared and archived. Savage-Howie said stories can be signed or anonymous and can be submitted through the T.O. Remembers website. Handwritten stories may also be submitted to locked boxes at Borderline, California Lutheran University, Five07 Coffee Bar and the Grant R. Brimhall Library. The goal is to finish the project by January.
“It’s been important in our efforts that we get as many voices as possible,” Savage-Howie said.
In addition, a podcast was launched with interviews from well-known community members, and a live event called “T.O. Remembers: Stories from November 2019,” will take place on Friday, Nov. 8, 7-9 p.m. at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. The event is supported by a $3,200 grant from the Thousand Oaks City Council, and will feature stories from five community members about how they were affected by the tragedies, a dance troupe honoring the Borderline victims, and local musicians. A reflection space with a display of written stories, pictures and artwork will also be on display in the lobby.
“It’s a place for the community to come together and hear and receive stories in a space of healing,” Savage-Howie said.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.thousandoaksremembers.com.
“A Universal Emotional Curve”
Michael Morisette and his wife, Martha, were asleep at their house in Simi Valley when they heard a banging on their door. It was their daughter Kristina’s friend Maggie, telling them she had heard on the news about a shooting at Borderline. Kristina, 20, had been working as a hostess that night.
Michael had recently picked up his daughter from the airport. Kristina had just returned from Texas, where she was looking at a school to become an animal handler. The two went to breakfast as she showed her father photos from the trip.
Back home, Kristina took a nap before her shift at Borderline and Michael got ready for work.
“I wished her well and told her I was glad she was home safe,” Michael said. Those were the last words he would ever say to his daughter.
After visits and calls to local hospitals to check for Kristina, the Morisettes were left with no answers and later went to the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, which had been set up as a reunification center for friends and families of victims and survivors.
“We knew Kristina was there [at Borderline] and not answering her calls or text messages,”
Michael said. “We assumed from the news that maybe she was one that went out one of the windows and dropped her phone in the bushes, or she was still inside hiding, or being interviewed by the police.”
The Morisettes sat for hours in the gym with hundreds of others as they waited for information from officials. At 12:30 p.m., they received the heartbreaking news.
“We went into a private room [with officials] and broke down and cried,” Michael said. “It was hard.”
Michael said the healing process has gotten easier one year later.
“At first you’re in total shock, it went on for weeks,” Michael said. “You lose track of time and it was a fog. It’s a universal emotional curve.”
Michael said that advocates from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Crime Victims’ Assistance Office, Thousand Oaks Police Chief and a Ventura County Sheriff’s liaison still keep in touch with the family. He has also been attending weekly counseling sessions and is an advocate through nonprofit Give an Hour’s Campaign to Change Direction, which is an effort to change the culture of mental health in the U.S.
“People should not just watch their physical health but emotional health as well and ask what we can do to make it better,” Michael said. “If we can walk each other through, we can get to the other side and still have a healthy life with the losses we have incurred. We owe that to our loved ones.”
Healing in Nature
Community members can come together and reflect at the newly built Healing Garden at
Conejo Creek North Park.
According to the Conejo Recreation and Park District website, the garden consists of a healing space with a 12-jet fountain (for the 12 victims), a reflection seating area with surrounding plants and flowers, and an oak tree. Twelve granite benches will be placed along the walkway, and 12 boulders will be placed near the stage of the Lakeside Pavilion.
The walkway consists of pavers in different colors representing the 248 survivors.
“The garden will prove to be a healing site for the entire city for what was the most tragic event in our entire history,” said Thousand Oaks Mayor Rob McCoy. “This will not be the last memorial but it will be the memorial completed in time for the one-year anniversary. This was critical for our city to complete this in time for this anniversary as the fires hindered our immediate ability to mourn as a city.”
A public dedication ceremony is set to take place on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 3:15 p.m. at Conejo Creek North Park’s Lakeside Picnic Pavilion, 1379 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks.
For more information, visit www.crpd.org/healinggarden.
“He Always Wanted to Be a Hero and Die a Hero”
When Shoshauni Washburn’s mother woke her up at 7 a.m. telling her that Cody Coffman, her boyfriend of four years, was missing, she didn’t believe her.
“I told her, no, it’s fine, he was at Borderline and probably got home late and is sleeping,” said Washburn, 20, a Castaic resident. She had spoken to Coffman five minutes before the shooting occurred.
“He was my nightly phone call every single night,” Washburn said.
Coffman had always encouraged his girlfriend to come to Borderline with him, but that night, she had school work to complete. She later learned of his passing from his mother.
“He was a corky person and I’ve always been a corky kind of person too. We meshed well,” Washburn said.
She said the healing process has been difficult and began moving forward after Coffman’s birthday in August. She also now attends Borderline’s Country Nights at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills.
“I was more or less told to let him go and not forget him but live on for him,” Washburn said. “No matter what you did, he was always your best friend and had your back. In the end, he would take a bullet for you.”
Healing Through Celebration
On Saturday, Nov. 9, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., the Borderline Strong Party in the Park will take place at Conejo Creek North Park. The event will include live music by the Highway Starr band, Borderline DJs, a beer and wine garden, line dancing, food trucks and other activities.
“The intention is to always have this celebration the Saturday after the seventh [of November] so that the victims and survivors are never forgotten,” said Troy Hale, co-owner of Borderline Bar and Grill. “It’s going to be a fun time and we anticipate a high turnout.”
Proceeds from the event will go to the Rotary Club of Westlake Village. Hale said a Borderline Strong Foundation nonprofit is also in the works, where 12 scholarships in each of the victims’ names will be handed out once a year to a student who has the same professional interest as one of the victims.
Hale and co-owner Brian Hynes weren’t there the night of the shooting, but received phone calls and text messages from other employees and drove to the bar minutes later.
“We thought, ‘this can’t be happening and I hope that everybody is accounted for and that we find out who is missing,’ ” Hale said.
Since then, the co-owners have been to the bar frequently to clean out posters and pick up other items, even providing walkthroughs for families looking for a sense of closure.
“It’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever done,” Hale said.
He also said the bar’s future is unknown. Currently, Borderline Country Nights are held at The Canyon Clubs in Agoura Hills, Montclair, Pasadena and Santa Clarita.
“This has been one of the hardest years of our lives,” Hale said. “We are doing everything we can to keep busy and move forward and try to reopen Borderline to some capacity. We’re still talking with our landlord and insurance company, we’re not in the position to make decisions ourselves yet. The vast majority of people would love us to reopen.”
To purchase tickets, visit www.borderlinebarandgrill.com.
Help for trauma survivors
For those needing a professional to talk to, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Crime Victims’ Assistance Unit helps those who have gone through trauma.
According to unit supervisor Dina Zuhric, about 315 individuals impacted by Borderline have reached out to the program. Victim advocates skilled in crisis intervention provide information about upcoming community events and referrals to service providers such as therapists.
Zuhric said survivors one year later still call to obtain information about professional resources and will continue to do so as long as the services are needed. On the day of the anniversary, she advised to start thinking of what individual activities will be done throughout the day so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
“The feelings will rise up,” Zuhric said. “I think it’s very important to talk to others and reach out to therapists’, family or a support group to be around.”
Ventura County District Attorney’s Crime Victims Assistance Unit, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Room 311, Ventura, 805-654-3622.