Victoria Rose Meek and her older brother, Justin, grew up attached at the boot — country music-loving, water polo-playing, singing and criminal justice majors at California Lutheran University.
“I called them the fraternal twins, even though they were born three years apart,” their mother, Laura Lynn Meek, told CNN.
Their passions led the siblings to Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, also home to what became their favorite dance hall, The Borderline Bar and Grill.
They loved Borderline college night, when a couple hundred young adults and teenagers from surrounding schools left behind their laptops and books and line-danced with friends and strangers.
On November 7, 2018, Justin was working as a promoter for the club and Victoria Rose joked that included running the beer pong games.
“I was hanging out with my brother when one of my favorite songs came on, one of my favorite line dances, ‘Askin’ Questions,'” said Victoria Rose, who is now a 21-year-old college senior.
She ran off to strut and as the song wound down, the gunshots began.
“I was turning and then I heard pop, pop, and there was a pause, and it all happened so fast and it was chaos,” Victoria Rose said.
“And I was just ducking and running to the back door. And I tripped and fell.”
She recalls a stranger helped lift her up and pushed her away from the massacre.
Later, Victoria Rose left a voice message on Justin’s phone but saw no sign of her hulking brother outside.
“I just felt it in my gut,” she said, before pausing and crying. “I knew after that Justin didn’t make it.”
Authorities said Ian David Long fired 50 rounds, killing 12 people including Justin Meek and Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus.
Long, a 28-year-old United States Marine Corps veteran, then fatally shot himself.
No definite motive has surfaced.
Justin was 23.
Thursday, a “healing garden” honoring Meek and the other 11 victims is set to be dedicated in a Thousand Oaks park a few miles away from the bar.
The memorial features 12 stone slab benches and water jets, one for each victim. The fountains form a circle around a pond, and the heads of turtles can be seen poking out above the shimmering water.
“I think the water is very significant for us because Justin grew up on the water,” his mother said. “He was more comfortable on water than he was on land.”
Justin’s parents and sister listed the water connections: swimmer, water polo player, lifeguard. His next goal was to become become a Coast Guard officer, and eventually a US marshal.
“I’ve heard people ask him, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?'” said their father, Roger Meek, a retired Navy SEAL. “‘I want to help people. I want to protect people,’ (Justin said). And that’s who he was.”
Before his last heartbeat at Borderline, that’s what Justin was doing — helping and protecting.
His sister and parents say Justin broke out windows with a bar stool, creating an escape route.
Not only did Victoria Rose survive, but so did 247 other young people, who just came to dance.
“From witness statements, he raised his arms like angels’ wings, as my mom says, and shielded other people so they could get out,” Victoria Rose explained, eyes glistening.
“I understand he was the last person getting out when he was shot.”
The Meek family says they want people to keep talking about Justin and the other victims.
They wear engraved bracelets to remember Justin — an Eagle Scout at 13, accomplished singer and friend to many people.
Inside the bracelets are a quote: “And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.”