(CNN) - Sgt. Ron Helus had been set to retire in the next year from the Ventura County, California Sheriff's Office when, responding late Wednesday to a call of a shooting, he walked into the Borderline Bar & Grill.
It would be the last act of a 29-year law enforcement veteran described as hardworking and dedicated and, now, as a hero.
Helus was among the first officers through the door at the Borderline. He was shot several times as he tried to stop the rampaging gunman, who killed 11 others in the attack in Thousand Oaks, California, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
"He went in to save lives, to save other people," Dean said of Helus, his voice breaking.
"He was totally committed, he gave his all," he said, "and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero."
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Helus died at a hospital, police said. He is also survived by a son.
"It's so tragic losing Ron," Dean said. "We go to the gym together, work out together. it's horrific and terrible and it saddens our hearts."
Late Thursday morning, a hearse escorted in a procession by several officers on motorcycles and other vehicles took Helus' body from Los Robles Hospital to the county medical examiner's office.
People lined parts of the route, watching the procession. Some took pictures with cell phones, and at least one woman held a US flag as the vehicles went by.
'He went in there to save lives'
Helus was a "true cop's cop," said his colleague, sheriff's Sgt. Eric Buschow.
"I don't think there's anything more heroic than what he did," Buschow said Thursday morning.
"He went in there to save lives. He took decisive action, and it's just a tragic loss for us," Buschow said.
Before the shooting, Helus had spent the evening backing up fellow deputies on calls, Ventura County sheriff's Senior Deputy Julie Novak told CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS.
'This was in his blood'
Buschow said he and Helus started at the sheriff's department around the same time, about 29 years ago. Helus had worked some drug investigation assignments and also had served many years on a SWAT team, Buschow said.
"This was in his blood. He had just a natural instinct for going after crooks, and he did it with enthusiasm, with a great deal of intelligence," Helus' colleague said.
Helus had a private business that taught gun safety to people who were seeking permits to carry concealed weapons, Ventura County sheriff's Deputy Chris Dyer said.
Helus also was a firearms instructor for sheriff's recruits at a basic training academy, Dyer said.
"He loved spending time with his son," Buschow added. "They would go fishing up in the Sierras together. My heart goes out to his family -- I can't imagine what they're going through right now."