Less than 24 hours after a gunman took the lives of 12 people at a busy bar in Thousand Oaks, California, and irrevocably changed the lives of many more, the grieving community gathered to mourn.
People filled the Fred Kavli Theater to its 1,800-seat capacity on Thursday night. Hundreds more gathered outside, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and created impromptu prayer circles to remember the slain.
The remembrance — a chance to celebrate the lives lost and rue their passing — saw mourners light up the night with candles.
Some told tales about the lives of those killed in the gunfire, others reached their hands to the sky in prayer, some grabbed hold of friends and strangers, hugging as they cried together.
Inside the auditorium, a woman sang a powerful rendition of “Amazing Grace” on stage, and in the upper portions of the audience, someone started to cry loudly filled with grief for those murdered.
Speaking earlier Thursday, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean described the bloodshed as both too common and, in its sheer violence, unknowable.
“It’s a horrific incident,” he told reporters. “It’s part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere, and I
think it’s impossible to put any logic or any sense to the senseless.”
Later Thursday, investigators said it was still too early in the investigation to discuss what possibly could have motivated a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran to don all-black clothing, load a handgun with an extended magazine and burst into the Borderline Bar & Grill about 11:20 p.m., wreaking havoc on the 150-200 people gathered inside.
By the end of the shooting, mere minutes later, the gunman had killed 12 others before apparently killing himself.
Among the dead are an 18-year-old college freshman, an aspiring Army recruit and a longtime sheriff’s official who was one of the first responders at the scene — shot multiple times at the bar’s entrance while trying to stop the shooting.
Speaking with PEOPLE, witness John Hedge described the chaos the shooter unleashed on the unsuspecting patrons:
“The room got all smoky and I thought to myself, What the hell is going on? And then I see my stepdad dive to the ground to try to get cover. He yelled, ‘John, get down, get down!’ And then you just hear people start screaming and diving.”
Others, who lost loved ones at Borderline, were left to struggle with the senselessness that followed the killings.
“I don’t know what to do,” Jason Coffman, whose son, Cody, was among the dead, told PEOPLE. “I’m so heartbroken right now.”