Remembering Former Student, Hero Killed in California Mass Shooting

Remembering Former Student, Hero Killed in California Mass Shooting

OU Extended Campus faculty and staff are remembering former student Sgt. Ron Helus, the Ventura County law enforcement officer fatally shot Nov. 7 in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Helus, a 2016 graduate of the Master of Arts in Administrative Leadership program, died trying to save others during a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill. Twelve others died in the shooting.

A 29-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Helus was the first to arrive on scene and suffered several gunshot wounds when he entered the building. He later died at a hospital.

Capt. Jim Fryhoff, chief of police for the Ojai Police Department in Ventura County and 2015 graduate of the OU Extended Campus Master of Arts in Administrative Leadership program, said Helus was a proud Sooner who planned to retire next year. 

“He was a solid guy, just an all-around great guy,” said Fryhoff.

A friend and colleague of Helus, Fryhoff also serves as an adjunct instructor for the OU Extended Campus criminal justice and administrative leadership programs. 

“If you’ve seen the news, you probably know he was on the phone with his wife when he got the call,” Fryhoff said. “He told her he loved and her and went to the scene. That’s the type of person he was.”

Fryhoff, who was instrumental in bringing Helus to OU, said Helus was proud of his alma mater.

Fryhoff said Helus was doing what he was trained to do when he entered the bar that night and undoubtedly saved many lives as a result of his heroic actions.

“He saw after I graduated how proud I was and asked about going to OU,” said Fryhoff. “He wanted to lead the way for his son and show him the importance of getting a degree. After we got him signed on, he was Boomer Sooner all the way.”

Fryhoff said he and Helus often watched OU football games together, and Sooner sports and the university in general were the topic of many of their conversations.

“He was very proud of the university and proud to call himself a Sooner,” Fryhoff said. “He had an OU sticker on his truck.”

Fryhoff said Helus was doing what he was trained to do when he entered the bar that night and undoubtedly saved many lives as a result of his heroic actions.

“It was college night, and there were 240 college students there,” he said. “I bet he saved a hundred lives.”

OU Extended Campus Dean Martha Banz said she was shocked when she heard of Helus’ death.

“I still find it hard to believe that he’s gone,” she said. “It was my privilege to have Ron as a student in one of my courses back in 2016. He was a ‘shining star’ student, one of the best and most responsible I’ve ever had.”

Banz said she stayed in touch with Helus after his graduation, and he was planning to pursue doctoral work after retiring from law enforcement.

“Through all of his coursework, as well as through our interactions since, it was clear that he was a person of impeccable character—wise, compassionate, reflective, insightful and devoted to making the world a better and safer place.”

Steven Gullberg, an OU Extended Campus faculty member, had Helus in class and also remembers visiting with him about pursuing a doctoral program.

“It was my privilege to have had Ron as a student and then work with him again when I was the chairman for his master’s degree comprehensive examinations. Ron was a superb student, one of the best, and always strove for excellence,” Gullberg said. “He was ever optimistic and upbeat, and his desire to help people was easily evident. This was particularly obvious in one of my classes, U.S. Military Leadership: Insights and Applications, where his commitment to others truly manifested itself.”

Gullberg said after graduating, Helus asked him for advice about doctoral programs.

“He wanted to continue to better himself, and he wanted to do so in order to help others by teaching,” Gullberg said. “He did not put this desire on hold, though, as he also asked for insight regarding teaching positions that he might be able to pursue now, while working on a Ph.D. Assisting people was at the core of Ron’s essence.

“I’m very proud of him for saving lives of others without concern for his own safety,” Gullberg added. “He is a true hero and will be missed by everyone he touched.”

Banz said she learned through having him in class that Helus had three favorite quotes: “It’s not about me,” “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” and “Live your life so that the fear of death never enter your heart.”

“Given those bedrock principles, I’m not at all surprised by his heroic actions, sacrificing his own life to save others,” Banz said. “He loved his family and friends deeply, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of loss his family is experiencing. Ron’s life exemplifies the very best of what it means to be a Sooner and, as his OU family, we honor the incredible legacy of his life.”

Helus, a resident of Moorpark, Calif., is survived by his wife and son.

Update: Services for Sgt. Ron Helus will be held Thursday, Nov. 15, at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, Calif., followed by a short procession and graveside service at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Mortuary and Cemetery. Visit this website for more information about the services.

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.