Tragedy After Tragedy in My Hometown

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This is my hometown. I live in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Our beautiful, tight-knit community, consistently rated one of the top safest cities in America, experienced heartbreaking loss and extreme devastation this past  week. We are in mourning.

I’ll start at the beginning:

Last Thursday, my husband Alex and I woke to a text from our niece, who’s  deployed in South Korea. I’m thinking of you today, sorry to hear the sad news in Thousand Oaks.

“What?” I said. “What sad news is she talking about?”

Alex checked his phone and we could not believe it.

A mass shooting. HERE. In Thousand Oaks. Last night at Borderline.

Our oldest daughter, Mackenzie, is 26. Our youngest, Talee, is 23. They’ve been to the  Borderline Bar & Grill numerous times. It’s a super popular place for college-aged kids and country music.

Wednesday was “college night,” for those 18 and over. I shuddered when I thought of how our girls were excited to go there when they turned 18.

Around 11:15pm, the line-dancing and laughter turned to horror. The gunman walked in, threw a smoke bomb and started firing. He killed 12 people. Then shot himself.

Alex and I watched the news all morning, stunned. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the city of Thousand Oaks was now on the list of mass shootings. Emotions swirled through my mind. Shock, sadness, confusion, anger. Another mass shooting? 

If it can happen here, it can happen ANYWHERE.

I sat in front of the TV and tried to eat breakfast. I felt sick and heartbroken. The news reports said that families of victims were gathered at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where our girls used to play basketball and go to dances when they were in middle school.

But Thursday morning the Teen Center served a grim purpose.

That’s where parents anxiously waited to find out if their sons or daughters were still alive. Even though I don’t know them, those mothers and fathers going through that hell are my neighbors. Our kids are similar ages, have attended some of the same schools, we visit the same shops, restaurants, and movie theaters.

I couldn’t fathom the pain. One father spoke to a reporter, constantly dialing his phone, desperate for his son to answer.

I got the chills when I heard the shooter was two years older than Mackenzie and went to the same high school. Even though she didn’t know him, she knows other kids who did.

Literally — this was too close to home.

An outpouring of love flooded social media.

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Details were just coming out. No victims had been named, except Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus. I knew that as the day went on, we’d hear stories of people we know who were injured or killed.

My friend told me that her friend’s oldest son died. My daughters know a girl whose brother was killed. A boy Talee went to high school with jumped out of a window to escape, and was hospitalized with severe cuts from broken glass.

Another boy Talee went to school with, and I’ve known since elementary school, saw the gunman walk into the bar and start firing. He got down on the ground and ran when he could. He had also survived the Route 91 shooting massacre last year in Las Vegas. There was another victim of the Vegas shooting who was at Borderline. He survived in Vegas, but was killed in his hometown.

After watching the TV for several hours Thursday morning, and reaching out to friends and family, I tried to take a break from the horrific news. I did some yard work and paid a few bills. Then I got a call from my mom.

“Jenny, I’m on the freeway, and I see smoke. It looks like it’s near you. Do you see it?”

“No.” I peeked out my office window. “Wait, I do see something.”

Alex and I went to the backyard and saw a huge plume of smoke. Within minutes, the smoke cloud turned bright orange and grew.

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As bad as it looked, we didn’t think it was that close. We were hoping it’d be put out quickly.

Less than half an hour later, we got the text and phone call emergency alerts from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office: “Your neighborhood is now under a mandatory evacuation order. The threat is imminent, please evacuate the area immediately.”

WHAT? Can this really be happening?

Alex brought me boxes and I filled them with important papers, jewelry, and external hard drives. He took pictures off the wall and unplugged the computer. Adrenaline rushed through my body. I was jittery and my heart was racing. I forced myself to take a deep breath and calm down. I thought about the shooting.

The parents of the victims will never see their children again. Mine are safe at work, an hour away. Those killed never had time to prepare and get themselves to safety. But I do. I have time to pack and get out of harm’s way. They didn’t have that luxury.

Those thoughts helped put things into perspective and get me through our current crisis.

We didn’t have time to process the reality that there was a mass murder in our town. And then we had to face another catastrophe.

We went from being in shock from the shooting, praying for the victims and their families, to being stunned from the fast-moving firestorm, praying that our home wouldn’t burn.

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Alex and I drove away from the home we’ve lived in for the past 19 years, confident we had all we truly needed. The road out of our development was jammed. Cars were stuffed with precious belongings and the look on people’s faces was nervous, frantic, disbelief.

The Thousand Oaks Teen Center went from a gathering place for families of shooting victims to a fire evacuation center. All in one day.

We had lots of offers from family and friends to stay with them. The problem was, so many roads and freeways were closed, we couldn’t possibly get there. We went to one of our daughter’s apartments in Los Angeles, and the second night, slept on sofas at my parent’s house.

Over the course of two days, 250,000 people in Thousand Oaks and surrounding areas were evacuated.

We felt such relief when our evacuation order was lifted, two days after the fire began. We’re safe and our home is too. We’re beyond grateful.

My heart breaks for the hundreds of people who have lost their homes in the Southern California fires. Two people died in their car, trying to escape the flames.

As I write this, the Santa Ana winds gust wildly. I look out my office window and see water-dropping planes and helicopters fly overhead on their way to retrieve more water. Fire continues to rage in Malibu and neighboring cities.

Alex just told me there’s another flare up. I went out to our backyard and a gigantic cloud of black smoke is creeping over the mountain. I see bright orange flames. Here’s what it looks like:

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We haven’t  unpacked our car yet… just in case.

I can’t express how much appreciation we have for the firefighters and first responders.  They are working tirelessly, saving lives and thousands of homes. Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough.

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Thanksgiving is next week, and we have so much to be thankful for. We’re hosting this year, there will be 23 of us. I’m looking forward to our family filling our home with hugs, laughter, and love. These tragedies have given Thanksgiving even more meaning.

I pray for the firefighters, for those who died in the fire, and for the people who don’t have a home to return to.

I pray for the families of the Borderline shooting victims, the survivors, and the twelve beautiful souls who lost their lives much too soon.

Our community will never be the same. We’ll never forget the horrific day our lives changed forever.

But we are strong, as we support and love each other. The countless acts of kindness, generosity, and heroic efforts are what will get us through.

In the midst of all of this heartache and disaster, it may not seem possible, but eventually we’ll heal and rebuild.

Together… We are strong.

Thousand Oaks Strong.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate action of its members.” ~Coretta Scott King

Rebecca Raede holds a sign reading ‘We are T.O. Strong’ across the street from the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where relatives and friends gathered in the aftermath of the shooting.

Second image courtesy of here

Fifth image courtesy of here

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Seventh image courtesy of here

Eight image courtesy of here

Ninth image courtesy of here

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78 thoughts on “Tragedy After Tragedy in My Hometown

  1. Oh Jenny…my heart hurts for your community for both events. My niece lives in Chico. I know they are prepared to evacuate if need be. I also know they have opened their home to people from Paradise who they don’t even know. Prayers for all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this beautifully written report of the tragedy of Thousand Oaks. I have friends who had to evacuate. My Godson is one and he had to also get his horses to safety. I live in Studio City, so we were constantly aware of what was happening in your city and the others that stood in the way of the flames.Our prayers and blessings for you and your family. I will re-blog. Everyone we can reach should know your story.

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  3. There are no words left any more. I was in LA last weekend (well, Nov. 2-5), and I saw a picture yesterday of the Santa Monica pier with the fire behind it. I’d taken the exact picture (minus the fire) less than a week before. It was staggering, thinking of how close you can come to tragedy. We nearly had a shooting at a middle school across from my parent’s house here a few years ago, but somehow the police talked him down and he let all of the middle school girls he’d held hostage go. One of the guys in my church is a state lawyer, and he had to defend the gunman in court. There are no words to express my condolences for everything you’ve lost, and everything everyone else has lost, and all I can do is pray.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a lot of tragedy packed into such a short period. I can’t even imagine how one manages to process it. It sounds like you still have a home to go back to and your children weren’t part of the shooting. But I too live in a small town and can only imagine what it would be like if it happened here. It’s beyond imagining.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s still very hard to believe. It’s one of those things that you think can never happen where you live. And yes, I’m so very grateful for our safety, our home, and that our daughters are safe. My heart breaks for those directly affected, who lost a loved one or their home.

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  5. Here I am thinking that WE live in what amounts to a war zone with all the home attacks and hijackings and wild weather. At least we don’t have these pathetic suddenly-turned-monsters seeking to get their only moment of fame by mass murder. We have had vicious winds, but at least here we don’t get wildfires. My old hometown has, though. Poor Knysna in South Africa has been hard hit.

    The world has gone crazy: weather, politics and human behaviour generally. I hope you have stayed safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My heart goes out to everyone caught up in this horrendous disaster. I pray every night for an end to the burning fires and the safety of people and animals. Bless Everyone. x💔💜

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  7. This is written with such emotion but yet in such a beautiful way. My eyes tear up for you and my heart breaks for all the victims and their families and for you and your family! Just so sad!
    But thank you for stating how amidst all the sadness there still are reasons to be thankful! This touched my heart and sending (((Hugs))) to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I truly cannot imagine what both of those incidents were like for you and the people in your community. When people say they can relate, they can’t unless they’ve been there.
    I follow a guy who had a real close call with the Carr fire and it was harrowing.
    So glad you’re safe

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I truly appreciate that! I never dreamed I’d be experiencing this. It’s hard to describe the feeling of shock when we found out about the mass shooting. And these fires… But we’re safe and thankful!

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  9. Good to hear that you’re safe, but that really was so close to you. I hope the fires are put out soon and your community can begin to come to terms with what it has suffered. I fear that may take a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. And I agree. It’s going to take time. A friend of mine drove by Borderline yesterday. She said it was an eerie, awful feeling, seeing law enforcement and investigators there. Made me realize how long it’s going to take to get back to “normal.” I guess this may be the new normal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I only know what I’ve seen from tv news and the newspaper, but it seems like other communities who have suffered something like this become closer together, though the healing takes a long time – if it ever can heal. Your piece is very moving, and shows the care and concern for others that your community will need. I hope it goes as well as possible for you all.

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      • Thank you. I do think these events will bring us closer. A couple of days ago, I was in a grocery store and looked and felt exhausted and drained. But I looked around, and knew that everyone else felt the exact same way. It helped knowing we’re in this together. Thanks again for your kind words!

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  10. Oh Jenny, I’m writing this through tears and shock. Such tragic events and so close together. My heart aches for all those who were so senselessly killed, far too close to home for you. And then the threat of those horrific fires. I’m so glad you’re safe and I send you all my prayers and blessings. Such a sad time and thanksgiving will indeed have a profound and deeper meaning for you this year. Take care Jenny. xx ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  11. There has been a collective sadness this week. I’m so glad to hear you’re okay! My son lives in North Hollywood right next to Burbank. There has been one fire after another. My heart goes out to the families of the victims. When will Washington say, “Enough?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. This cannot keep happening. Something must be done! And yes, many different fires have flared up. Most concerning right now is the Woolsey fire, hitting Malibu hard. Thank you for reading and your nice comment. xx

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  12. Hello Jenny – I came by you via the english professor. I hardly have words … unbelievable and tragic the tragedies on their own, one coming after the other is just simply … too tooo tooo much. These are tragedies to be fully mourned. I’m glad you’re safe and my thoughts are with you all and the firefighters ..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting here, reading, and for your nice comment. I appreciate it so much! I know, I was just talking about this with my daughter… how we didn’t have time to process the shooting, and still haven’t, because we had to deal with the fires. I’m just now looking into how my husband and I can help the families of the shooting victims. Many fundraisers are being organized, and I feel like now I can focus on those. Yes, way too much tragedy at one time. Thank you again. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This is so much to process! The shooting is so close to home and when it’s in your community it would be unimaginable. It makes you wonder when will this senseless madness end?
    I am so glad you are safe what a scary thing to happen! As you said things get put into perspective quickly. The pictures are crazy and make it more personal. Prayers for you and your loved ones and your community. God bless those fire fighters, rescue workers, police officers and all emergency workers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen to that! Those first responders and firefighters are truly incredible. It is a lot to process. Now that we’re pretty much in the clear as far as the fire goes, I find myself thinking more and more about the shooting. Today I felt so sad and drained. First funeral of a boy named Cody is tonight. Tomorrow is the Sheriff’s sergeant who was killed. So many funerals in our community. Senseless. Thank you so much for your kind words and prayers. It truly means a lot. xox

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    • I appreciate that very much, thank you. It’s really hard to process. We’re safe and the fire isn’t a threat to us like it was, and now we’re mourning and trying to process the shooting. It’s impacted so many. Thank you again xx

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Jenny – we follow each other’s blogs and now I see we are neighbors! I am up the road in Camarillo. My heart has been with your beautiful city and all it has been through. And I’m also seeing so much beauty in the way the community came together, finding strength in kindness, showering love on the first responders, and holding space for grief. Thank you for your beautifully written, so personal account of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Victoria! Wow, we are neighbors!! Thank you for reading and for the comment. Your kind words mean a lot. Tragedy can bring out the best in people, and our city has definitely come together to support and love each other. Many are hurting so deeply. My husband and I went to the Borderline memorial this weekend. It’s heartbreaking. There are signs all over the city, thanking the firefighters and first responders. Right near our house, there’s a fire station, and across from it is a huge sign made by an elementary school saying, “Thank you for saving us.” That says it all. I’m glad we’ve connected. Take care, Jenny xx

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  16. As I read this I am on the verge of tears. I felt like I was right alongside you because of your wonderful writing skills. I will continue to pray that everyone affected by this horrific tragedy. Only a small period of time has passed since then. I cannot wait until Revelation 21:4 is fulfilled. ❤
    “And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes. And death will be no more neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”

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