Fellow sheriff's deputies knew him as a cop's cop, one who would "go to the ends of the earth" to solve a crime. To family and friends, Ron Helus was a devoted husband and father who loved to go fly fishing with his son.
Helus, 54, will be hailed as a hero Thursday — a man who courageously sacrificed his life to save others' when he raced into a Southern California bar crackling with gunfire and immediately engaged the shooter in a firefight.
The act would kill Helus when he was struck by several bullets, but it also would allow others a few precious moments to escape. In all, 12 victims died, and the gunman killed himself.
"There's no doubt that they saved lives by going in there," former Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, who retired last Friday, said of Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer who followed him through the door.
Helus' funeral was scheduled for noon at Calvary Community Church in the Los Angeles suburb of Westlake Village, followed by burial at a nearby cemetery. Gov. Jerry Brown was among those expected to attend.
A funeral was held Wednesday night in Camarillo for another victim, 22-year-old Cody Gifford-Coffman, who was shot as he warned others to flee. He was remembered warmly as a man with a goofy sense of humor who loved fishing and baseball.
"I am honestly, truly broken," said his father, Jason Coffman. "He didn't deserve it."
Helus' funeral was taking place just a few miles from the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, where the veteran sheriff's sergeant hurried following a report of gunfire shortly before midnight Nov. 7. It was college night at the popular venue, and the place was packed with young people.
"Hey, I got to go handle a call. I love you. I'll talk to you later," he said as he ended a phone call with his wife.
"The fact that he was the first in the door doesn't surprise me at all," said sheriff's Sgt. Eric Buschow, a colleague and longtime friend. "He's just one of those guys who wouldn't hesitate in a situation.
"Patient. Calm no matter what," Buschow added. "When you call 911, he's one of the guys you want showing up."
Helus was a 29-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department who had planned to retire next year.
An avid fly fisherman who loved the outdoors, he posted photos of himself and his son fishing on his Facebook page. One friend jokingly posted last summer that Helus seemed to spend so much of his spare time at streams looking for fish that he must be part bear.
"As a matter of fact, I am part bear," he replied. "I've probably had 200 bear and three mountain lion encounters. Bring `em on! I love em!"
At work, he took on many of the toughest assignments at the Sheriff's Department, working on the SWAT team and in narcotics and investigations.
"If you were a victim of a crime, you want him investigating the case," Buschow said. "He would go to the ends of the earth to find a suspect."
After he died, hundreds of people lined the streets to pay their respects as a hearse carried his body from a hospital to a coroner's office.
Many, including medical personnel and law enforcement officers, wept and placed their hands over their hearts as the hearse passed. Firefighters assembled two ladder trucks to hang a giant American flag in Helus' honor over the route.
Helus' survivors include his wife, Karen, and son, Jordan.