The country music community has a longstanding ethos of standing together in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.
So, before the 52nd Annual CMA Awards in Nashville even began Wednesday (Nov. 14), that very community united with audiences at home and use the time we would all share together during the night’s festivities to eulogize and honor the fans whose lives were taken in the tragic shooting last week at the Borderline Bar & Gill in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
At the top of the show, with a quiet, packed arena holding up lights, Garth Brooks addressed audiences at home by announcing. “On behalf of our country music community,” he said, “I want to say that tonight’s show is lovingly dedicated to the twelve individuals whom we lost far too soon just a week ago tonight at the Borderline in Thousand Oaks, CA. Tonight, let’s celebrate their lives. Let the music unite us with love and their enduring memory. So please join me now in a moment of silence.”
At CMT.com, we too, wish to honor the twelve lives lost by celebrating their remarkable journeys on Earth and the legacies they leave behind.
The following was compiled by CMT contributors Alison Bonaguro, Lauren Tingle and Samantha Stephens.
Sean Adler, 48
Sean Adler was the proud owner of a brand new coffeehouse in Simi Valley. But on the night of the shooting, Adler was working at the Borderline Bar & Grill as a security guard, a job he took to make ends meet until his coffeehouse starting making money. He’d also held jobs as a high school wrestling coach and a youth soccer coach. At a vigil for his father, Adler’s oldest son Derek told the crowd that his dad tried to stop the shooter on Wednesday night (Nov. 7). “He ran at the guy and tried to stop him,” Dylan said. “In the meantime, he saved dozens and dozens of lives. Those people he saved get to go home to their family and tell them what my dad did.” Adler’s younger son Derek added that his dad was the glue that held their family together. Adler is survived by his wife Fran and two sons, Dylan, 17, and Derek, 12. A Go-Fund Me has been established to benefit his family.
Cody Coffman, 22
Cody Coffman had just begun talking to recruiters about potentially enlisting in the Army. Until then, he worked as an umpire for a local Pony baseball league. His father Jason remembers the very last phone call he had with his oldest son. “The first thing I said was, ’Please don’t drink and drive.’ The last thing I said was, ’Son, I love you,’” Coffman’s father recalled. According to reports, Coffman died while he was trying to protect several women inside the Borderline Bar & Grill on Wednesday night (Nov. 7) when a gunman walked into the venue and started shooting. Coffman is survived by his parents, plus three young brothers and one sister, who is due to arrive later this month.
Blake Dingman, 21
Blake Dingman was out for the night with his friend Jake Dunham when the unthinkable happened. Dingman’s younger brother Aidan Dingman wrote about his devastating loss on Instagram shortly after he got the tragic news that his brother was killed in the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill on Wednesday (Nov. 7). “Words cannot describe the pain I am feeling. Last night my life was changed forever,” Aidan wrote. “Me, my dad, and mom raced to the scene. Or as close as we could get. We tried for hours and hours to get in touch with Blake and got no response. At 12:00 this morning I was informed that my amazing brother was taken down by the shooter as well as his good friend Jake Dunham. Blake, I love you so much, and I miss you more than you can imagine.” Dingman played high school baseball at Hillcrest Christian School in Thousand Oaks, and he also loved off-roading on all kinds of terrain.
Jake Dunham, 21
Jake Dunham was a regular at the college night held every week at the Borderline Bar & Grill and was there playing pool when the gunman started shooting on Wednesday night. He was there with his friend Blake Dingman. Dunham loved riding his dirt bike, driving his truck and going to bonfires with his friends. According to reports, Dunham was blind in one eye and suffered from hemophilia. “Even though he had all these obstacles, he did everything to the fullest,” Dunham’s mother Kathy said. His Instagram account shows off all the trucks he loved.
Sgt. Ron Helus, 54
Ron Helus was nearly a year away from retirement when he lost his life in the tragic Borderline shooting on Nov. 7. A servant of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department since 1989, Sgt. Helus was described by fellow officer, Sgt. Eric Buschow, as a “cop’s cop.” “He’s the guy that if you were the victim of a crime, he’s the guy you’d want investigating it because he’d go to every length to find the person responsible,” Buschow told MSNBC. Helus loved the outdoors and enjoyed fishing and left behind a wife and a son, whom he called before entering the bar last Wednesday. Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told Today that Helus, a true hero, was the man willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of others. “He ran into danger — he didn’t walk.”
Alaina Housley, 18
The youngest victim of the tragedy, Housley’s college career had just begun at Pepperdine University and a bright future lay ahead for the Napa native. “She was an incredible, beautiful girl who didn’t hurt anybody and was excited to go Italy for a program overseas,” her uncle Adam Housley told CBS This Morning. Housley’s Facebook boasts a photo of the vivacious girl with her friends on her high school graduation just last June. That page is now a place for friends and family to celebrate her life and bright light. Housley’s family wants the conversation about the state of our society to continue by showing love and kindness. “She wouldn’t want this happening to anyone else,” her aunt, actress Tamara Mowry Housley said.
Daniel Manrique, 33
Manrique spent his life serving his country and serving others. An ex-Marine sergeant who served in the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion and 2nd Marine Division as a radio operator, Manrique also served in Afghanistan in 2007 and was discharged in 2010. Upon returning home, he began working with a non-profit group aimed to help veterans transition back into the community after their service. The Daily News reports that he also volunteered with a hospital helping the homeless and at a local church’s daycare. “The best way I can describe him is as a ‘saint,’” his friend Tim O’Brien said. “Dan was the guy you could rely on if you ran out of gas in the middle of the night. He would help you out if something bad happened. He was there, dedicated, loyal.”
Justin Allen Meek, 23
Meek had just graduated from California Lutheran University with a degree in Criminal Justice when his young life was cut short. In addition to his studies, Meek worked as a respite caregiver, supporting families of special needs children with developmental disabilities. His co-worker Danielle Gallo told The Southern Illinoisan, “You could tell he really had a heart for what he did.” Meek was also a singer and toured with an a cappella group. “He was a hero every [day] of his life,” friend Patrick Ellis said. And he was a hero that fateful night at the Borderline, where he bravely tried to protect patrons from the gunman’s shots. “Justin was larger than life,” friend Toni Aden described.
Marky Meza Jr., 20
Meza was part of the staff at the Borderline Bar & Grill, and he was weeks away from his 21st birthday when he died. According to KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara, Calif., a Mark (Marky) Meza Junior Foundation has been set up in his honor. “Marky was a genuine light everywhere he went and wanted nothing more than to make people happy and bring smiles to everyone around him,” his family said in a statement. “He obtained so much joy and energy from being around people that loved him, just like we got from being in his presence. He would have gone to the end of the world for his family and friends. He was generous to a fault, not only with his time but with his empathy.”
Kristina Morisette, 20
Morisette is remembered by those who love her as a driven woman who didn’t take no for an answer. Her father Michael Morisette told People, “[she] went as fast as she could to get places that she wanted to go. She didn’t delay. … She didn’t look for the negative. Carry that in your heart.” Morisette loved country music because of her older sister and worked at the Borderline for a year where she loved to line dance.
Telemachus Orfanos, 27
Telemachus’ name originated from the son of the mythical Greek god Odysseus. Orfanos was a Navy veteran and a survivor of the massacre at 2017’s Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. He worked at the Borderline as a bouncer and promoter and used his trauma training with fellow military veteran Brendan Hoolihan to help victims at Route 91 find safety. Hoolihan and Orfanos were strangers before meeting at Route 91, and they quickly bonded over their service to others. They had a mutual love of country music. According to Stars and Stripes, the first and only time they connected after the tragedy was at the 2018 Stagecoach music festival in Indio, Calif. where they reunited with fellow Route 91 survivors to enjoy a weekend of the music they adored. He is remembered by those who love him for his fierce loyalty to the people in his life and a duty to protect them at all costs.
Noel Sparks, 21
Sparks loved folk and country music and was a classically trained musician herself having been a member of the Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra. She went to the Borderline for concerts and line dancing, often inviting friends to join her via Facebook. Her friends and family remember her as a devoted Christian and a born leader. In 2015, her mother, Wendy Crawford Anderson, posted on Facebook, “My daughter’s talking to me as usual and then, as usual, she just blows me out of the water with a comment … ‘We are such a wealthy country that not only do we have houses, but we also build houses for our cars. Meanwhile, there are homeless families many with children. We don’t seem to build houses for them. Same with insurance. We have to insure our car but forever and a day we didn’t have to insure our children.’ A born leader is what I got on my hands!”