This editorial will not mention the name of the man who allegedly opened fire in a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Instead, we’d like readers to remember the name Matt Wennerstrom. The 20-year-old is a weekly regular at the Borderline Bar & Grill and says he thinks of other regulars there as family.
When the gunman started shooting on Wednesday night, Wennerstrom reacted swiftly. He gathered people behind a pool table and got them to crouch down: ” … There was probably six or seven of us dog-piling over the girls that were beneath us.”
Then, when the gunman paused to reload, Wennerstrom seized his chance. He tossed a barstool through a window and, along with others, ushered about 30 to 35 people out. Then he and other rescuers leaped to safety.
“Bar stools go through windows,” he told ABC News. “It works.”
Wennerstrom is now reaping accolades. “We need more Matt Wennerstroms in the world,” one Twitter user wrote. We second that.
Wennerstrom’s exploits reminded us of other incidents in which ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary life-or-death circumstances. We don’t mean to downplay the courage of Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus who responded to the first 911 calls. Helus, due to retire in the next year, was the first officer to enter the club. He was instantly cut down by gunfire.
Law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders train for these moments. They almost always can be counted on to run toward danger. Ordinary citizens like Wennerstrom generally — and understandably — head the other way.
We often have admired the reflexive heroism and grit of civilians who, under extreme pressure and with little time to think, choose not to retreat but to stay and help others. One memorable example: A sniper opened fire as country singer Jason Aldean performed at a Las Vegas music festival last year, sending concertgoers scrambling for cover. In the panic and chaos, strangers shielded one another from shrapnel, locals guided concertgoers to escape routes and a man bravely transported a wounded victim by wheelbarrow. These images stick in our minds.
In disasters large and small, some people respond fearlessly to an imminent threat. Remember how James Shaw Jr., a 29-year-old electrician, wrested a rifle from a gunman who had already fatally wounded four people at a Nashville Waffle House restaurant earlier this year? Shaw grabbed the scalding barrel of an AR-15 rifle as the shooter was reloading.
Wennerstrom wasn’t the only civilian hero who helped others in the California bar shooting. Others did too. We hope to learn their names and more about how they reacted to an emergency. Months and years from now, many people will remember those killed, Sgt. Helus included. Let’s also be sure to recall Matt Wennerstrom and the lives that weren’t lost.