Sgt. Ron Helus, 54, of Moorpark, was the first victim identified. Helus, who served on the force for 29 years, is survived by a wife and son. Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said Helus "was looking to retire within the next year or so."
Eleven hours after the deadly shooting, Helus was transported via motorcade from Los Robles Hospital to the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office in the city of Ventura.
Firefighters honored Helus with a giant U.S. flag raised by two ladder trucks over the route. Thousand of people also lined the streets and freeway overpasses as the hearse went by in the 25-mile route.
Several people pulled over, got out of their vehicles and saluted the slain sergeant. Even school children lined up outside their schools to pay their respects and held a sign that said, "We support our officers."
The emotional procession ended with hundreds of Ventura County sheriff's officials saluting Helus' body as the hearse pulled into the coroner's office.
Dean, who said Helus was a friend who often went to the gym with him, said Helus went into the club to save lives. Helus and a highway patrol officer entered the nightclub when they knew what was happening. Dean said that's when Helus was shot.
He said Helus had spoken to his wife before responding to the shooting, as he often did multiple times during his shift. Dean said he told her, "Hey, gotta go handle a call, I love you, I'll talk to you later."
Dean remembered Helus during a press conference early Thursday morning.
"Ron was a hard working, dedicated sheriff's sergeant," Dean said. "He was totally committed. He gave his all. And tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero."
At least 11 other people are dead, as well as the suspect.
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"It tears at our hearts and emotions, as it should," Dean said of all the victims and their families. "If we get to the point that it doesn't, then there is something wrong with us."