National News

‘She’s Alive for Her 21st Birthday’: Thousand Oaks Shooting Survivors Recount a Night of Terror

Posted November 9, 2018 9:50 a.m. EST

It was Nellie Wong’s 21st birthday, so drinks and country music were in order. She and her friends from California State University Channel Islands packed into the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. They went there to unwind several times a week, especially on Wednesdays for the bar’s popular college night.

The evening at the wood-paneled bar began with a live DJ, lots of plaid, line-dancing and clinking drinks. It ended with Wong hiding as a gunman dressed in all black unleashed a wave of bullets, killing at least 12 people and sending her friends scattering in the mayhem. Wong spent her birthday hiding instead of dancing, fearing for her life instead of celebrating it.

“I was in there the whole time,” she said, stunned for words.

Several survivors described the beginning of the shooting as a blur of chaos, panic and bullets. Sarah DeSon, 19, who was with Wong, said the club suddenly filled with smoke. They saw the gunman draw his gun at the front, and they ducked for cover as a rapid clip of bullets spread through the bar. As DeSon ran outside, she said, several bodies were sprawled out on the floor.

Hours after the shooting, Wong and four girlfriends were reunited at a nearby gas station, where they talked about what each had experienced that night: where they hid during the shooting, how they got out, the dry heaving one experienced afterward and the friends they hadn’t heard from yet.

“I’m so sorry your birthday got ruined,” DeSon told Wong, still in a daze.

“She’s alive, though. She’s alive for her 21st birthday,” added Teylor Whittler, 19, who said she was dragged out of the bar by a stranger.

Son said she believed she survived the shooting because of the quick reaction of a friend, Cody Coffman.

“He was protecting everyone,” DeSon said. “He got up and he just yelled, ‘Everyone, run!'”

Later on Thursday, they learned their friend Coffman was among those who were killed.