A Ventura County sheriff’s sergeant who was killed trying to stop the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks was remembered during a funeral service Thursday as a loving father and husband, a committed law enforcement officer, a selfless human being and a hero.
Hundreds of people, including law enforcement officers from across the state, mourned Ron Helus and celebrated his life at Calvary Chapel Community Church in Westlake Village. The memorial service began around noon and lasted for about 90 minutes.
Helus, 54, was among the first law enforcement officers to go inside the Borderline Bar & Grill on the night of Nov. 7. He rushed in amid continuous gunfire and immediately engaged the gunman in a shootout. Helus was struck by multiple bullets.
His courageous actions are credited with saving others, allowing several people inside to escape.
He was among the 13 people who died in the shooting; the count also includes the gunman, who eventually turned his weapon on himself.
Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub emphasized again on Thursday the bravery and heroic nature of Helus’ actions.
"Webster’s dictionary defines a hero as a figure in mythology and legend renowned for great strength, courage and daring. I agree with every part of that definition, except for the mythology part,” Ayub said. “Ron was real.”
Singer Billy Ray Cyrus, who performed at the service, also lauded Helus for his heroism.
“This man is the true definition of a hero,” Cyrus said after singing “Amazing Grace.”
He then sang “Some Gave All,” noting the ultimate sacrifice the sergeant made.
Pastor Steven Day opened the service by asking those in attendance to stand up and give a Helus an ovation if he touched their lives. The thunderous applause rang out for several moments before the crowd quieted down.
A 29-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, Helus spent much of his career on the SWAT team, and also worked drug investigations.
He was also a firearms and defensive tactics instructor who was committed to training others, especially the younger, less-experienced deputies on his shifts, according to Ayub.
He had planned to retire next year.
Born in West Hills on July 21, 1964, Helus grew up in the San Fernando Valley and went to Woodland Hills Taft and Canoga Park high schools.
He met his future wife Karen in an anatomy class at Pierce Community College when she asked for help dissecting a cat. The pair went on their official first date on Nov. 15, 1987 – exactly 31 years to the day of the funeral.
The couple got engaged the following year, with Helus proposing to Karen at the old Charley Brown’s restaurant – which later became the Borderline Bar & Grill.
“How ironic,” Day said.
They married in 1989 in Thousand Oaks and were devoted to each other throughout their 29-year marriage.
“That man loved that woman, and that woman loved that man. And that carried through their marriage,” Day said.
Their son Jordan was born March 16, 1994, and adopted by the couple.
Helus was remembered as a Christian, a man of faith and a devoted family man who loved to hike, backpack, ride bikes and fish with his son. The two would go up to Mammoth Lakes at least twice a year, starting when Jordan was 5 years old.
“Ron was extremely proud of his son,” the sheriff said, recalling phone conversations that centered around the sergeant’s family. That was all he wanted to talk about, according to Ayub, adding that he could never get a word in edgewise about his own family.
A short time before he went into the Borderline Bar & Grill, Helus called his wife and told her he loved her.
“That will remain with her the rest of her life. And all of us are touched by that kind of love and commitment,” Pastor Charlie Maloney said.
Maloney read from a letter written by Karen Helus in which she expressed her gratitude and love for her husband.
“Thank you for sharing the last 31 years with me. You were my husband and best friend,” she wrote, according to Maloney. “Thank you for being you, my hero, my love and my life. I will always love you and hold a special place in my heart that is only for you.”
Karen Helus did not speak at the service, but her thoughts were conveyed in the letter, as well as by Day. He recounted Karen’s description of her husband as a selfless individual who took care of her and valued their relationship.
“She said, 'He made me a priority. He was an amazing husband and father, always protecting us,'" Day recalled Karen telling him.
His love for his family was something emphasized earlier that day by sheriff’s Capt. Don Aguilar, who remembered his friend as a “great guy” when Helus was mourned and honored at a Woolsey Fire briefing for law enforcement and firefighting personnel.
Aguilar and Helus had lockers next to each, and the two often talked about their families – not work, the captain emphasized – while they were in the locker room.
“His bottom line was, support your team, complete your mission and go home to your families,” Aguilar said. “So please remember today, Ron’s bottom line. And remember to go home and love – hug all your loved ones tonight.”
After Aguilar spoke, a bell traditionally used to signal a firefighter's last alarm rang out for Helus, to recognize his final end of watch.
Following the memorial service, Helus was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Westlake Village.