Borderline shooting hits close to home

Left: From left, Chanah Trepp, Brianne Silva, Amy Buffham, Clare Morgan, Julia Habeger and Signal Staff Writer Michele Lutes smile together during a night at Borderline Bar and Grill. Right: Katelyn Dolder, right, 20 experienced the terror of Wednesday night's mass shooting. Her friend Taylor Toneman, who was not at Wednesday's college night event smile at the same event weeks prior to the shooting. Courtesy photo.

Editor’s note: The shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks hit especially close to home for Signal Staff Writer Michele Lutes, so we invited her to submit this first-person perspective.

Our place. Our people. It’s hard to wrap your mind around a tragedy that hits so close to home.

I have been going to Borderline Bar and Grill for three years since I was 18. It was the place where I counted down the days until I was old enough to get in and then counted down the days again until I could get the 21-and-over wristband. A place that reunited me with my best friends and created everlasting memories for us.

One best friend met her husband there and another met her boyfriend there. We celebrated our birthdays and engagements there and we created bonds that would last a lifetime with people from all over Los Angeles and Ventura County.

It’s about a 45-minute drive from Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks, and almost every week dozens of Santa Clarita Valley residents make the drive to dance with their second family at the place many consider their second home.

“Everyone says it’s like a family there, but literally my Snapchat group is named Borderline family,” said Will Davison, an SCV resident, my friend and Borderline regular.

With country music blasting and practicing line dances in our heads, I’d park the car at Borderline and we’d boot-scoot our way up to the door. We’d step up to the cashier to pay and get X’s on our hands or get our wristband.

The DJ would call out line dances as we’d rush to the floor to grab a spot to dance, or even make fools of ourselves as we’d try to follow a dance we don’t know. Either way, the smiles on our faces and the memories we are making are ones that will last forever.

Borderline is a place that has attracted the country community for years. Since 1993 the bar has been open to ages 18 and up. Whether it’s college night, country night or a concert and two-step lessons, the place would be packed.

It’s easy to make friends with whoever happens to be next to you whether you’re sitting on a bar stool or you never leave the dance floor, and you’d even run into people from your own neighborhood in the bathroom.

We know the names and faces of every single employee, from the bouncers to the line dance teachers.

“I’ve been going there for years and years. It’s a very safe place,” Davison said. “Everybody there is welcoming and inviting. This is not the place you think this would happen.”

Wednesday night, horrific events hit close to home. Hundreds of people stood inside a place that was made for memories — and they feared for their lives.

“At that moment I just kept thinking to myself, ‘Am I gonna be alive?’ Nothing else was going through my head,” said Katelyn Dolder, SCV resident and my friend of six years.

She had not missed a college night at Borderline in more than four months.

A gunman barged into Borderline and opened fire. By the time his rampage was done, he had killed at least 12 people, including a Ventura County sheriff’s sergeant who was the first to respond to the scene.

“I just feel shattered,” Davison said. He did not attend Wednesday’s event, but his friends were among the injured and deceased. He knew at least six of those killed.

It could have been any of us out there on that dance floor.

Wednesday night when I received the notification on my phone, I awoke, startled, and prayed it wasn’t real.

I had seen friends post on Snapchat and Instagram that they were at Borderline an hour prior.

All I could do was contact them and wait. For at least two hours, I heard nothing. No sign from the ones we call family.

Friends and family from across the nation contacted me asking me if I was OK, if I was there and what was going on.

I contacted Katelyn and waited over two hours to hear if she was safe. She was OK, but she had been running for her life, she said.

She made it out alive with a hurt ankle and was able to go home and hug her family again.

“When I first got home, it was still pitch dark,” she said. She sat down on the couch and tried to watch a Disney movie.

“I kept looking at the window. I was just paranoid. I don’t know what’s gonna come through a window now, or through a door. I’m just afraid to open it and see what’s on the other side,” she said.

I felt hopeless, angry, hurt, confused and anxious as I watched the news unfold in front of my eyes.

A place we call home shattered into pieces. Barstools thrown out windows, blood dried on the front steps and the deceased inside.

“It’s just painful. It was where some of the best memories have happened lately, but now it’s turned into the worst memory,” Katelyn said.

It’s gonna be a long road for all of us. We have to stick together and be Country Strong.

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