In obvious agony, the father of one of the victims in Wednesday night’s mass shooting at a California bar announced his death to the world.
“His name was Cody Coffman, my firstborn son,” Jason Coffman told reporters Thursday morning.
About 12 hours earlier a gunman burst into the crowded Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks and opened fire, killing at least 12 — including a responding sheriff’s sergeant — and injuring approximately a dozen others.
The gunman was found dead at the scene of an apparent suicide.
His voice choked with tears, Jason, 40, spoke with reporters not long after learning his son’s fate.
“Oh god, this is so hard — son I love you so much,” Jason said, sobbing, “Oh Heavenly Father, just please.”
“This is going to be an absolute heart-wrenching time for me and my family,” he said.
Jason tells PEOPLE he first learned of the shooting about 1 o’clock Thursday morning, when Cody’s friends came pounding at his door. Cody had left the night before for a night out with some friends but never returned. Jason was able to track his son’s phone “immediately” after hearing about the shooting — but all he could see was that it was still at the bar.
“I thought he was there still talking to the police, and then I found out from the police they had everybody out of there and everybody was gone and the interviews were gone, and that’s basically when my heart started pounding,” Jason says.
He says he has been awake and searching for his son all morning long.
“I got over here about 1:30,” he says at the local family assistance center set up by sheriff’s officials. “I’ve been here since 1:40.”
“I got word about the death, they just pulled us in,” he says. “We’ve been waiting all night. They’ve been pulling families in one at at time, everyone’s getting the bad news.”
Jason calls Cody his “best friend,” and “the big brother that my kids need.”
Cody had been living with him for less than a month and had plans to enroll in the Army, Jason says. He worked for a moving company and was still working some of his rowdier behavior out of his system before he settled into young adulthood.
“He was right now in a limbo stage,” Jason says. “He was going to have fun, doing his party thing. … I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him.”
Cody was “just getting his act together,” according to his dad. “He’s been talking to recruiters and getting ready to go.”
“I talked to him last night before he headed out the door,” Jason told reporters earlier Thursday. “The first thing I said was ‘please don’t drink and drive.’ The last thing I said was ‘son, I love you.’ That was the last thing I said.”
Jason told reporters that he was having a baby girl later this month and Cody was excited to have a little sister.
He tells PEOPLE: “I don’t know what to do. I’m so heartbroken right now.”
• With reporting by ELAINE ARADILLAS