Ten people were killed and nine injured in a mass shooting at a rural community college about 180 miles south of Portland, Oregon on Thursday. The shooter, 26-year-old Christopher Harper Mercer, killed himself after fatally shooting nine people at Umpqua Community College, then exchanging gunfire with police.
Classes at the a two-year school six miles north of Roseburg began this week, and freshmen were still getting used to the campus. This is the 45th school shooting in the U.S. this year. Here’s what we know so far.
Shots rang out around 10:38 a.m. Thursday in UCC’s Snyder Hall. On the emergency-dispatch call at Umpqua, a scene is calmly described — while additional ambulances are repeatedly requested — in which the suspect is shooting through doors while people hide in a computer lab. An 18-year-old attending a writing class in Snyder Hall told the local News-Review that she saw her teacher get shot in the head. She said the shooter ordered victims, who had just been told to get on the ground, to stand up one by one and state their religion before firing at them. Another witness’s father — his daughter is currently being treated after a bullet got lodged near her spine and is recovering and expected to walk again — told CNN that the shooter specifically asked Christians to stand up. “You’re going to see God in just about one second,” he reportedly said before shooting them in the head. Those who did not identify as Christian were shot in the leg or stomach, according to NBC News. However, on Saturday the mother of an another survivor said that the gunman wasn’t targeting Christians, instead just asking his victims if they were “Christian, knew God, or had religion.” Also, one of the students killed was agnostic, according to those who knew him.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that most of the gunman’s victims were inside of the room 15, where the writing class was being held. The gunman was himself enrolled in the class, but had shown up 30 minutes after it had started. The Times reports that, based on interviews with survivors, almost everyone in that room was either killed or injured. The professor teaching the class was apparently the first to die. One account said that the killer told the teacher, “I’ve been waiting to do this for years,” before shooting him in the head. Another account says the guman fired at the professor through the window of the classroom door. The Associated Press reports that another victim was shot after the shooter told him he could beg for his life, while others were shot after being made to crawl across the ground to the center of the classroom. The Guardian reports that the killer told his targets “We’ll meet again soon,” before shooting them, and also tried to tell his victims that getting shot wouldn’t hurt. Some of the victims survived by playing dead amongst the bodies of their fallen classmates.
Relatives of survivors also report that one person was specifically spared so that they could deliver a package to authorities from the killer. He reportedly told the person they were “going to the lucky one,” as well as, “don’t worry, you’re the one who is going to survive.’” Regarding the package, which was some kind of manifesto, the killer said it was “all the information that you’ll need, give it to the police.” So far police have not released any information about the killer’s motive.
What is known is that the gunman came dressed in body armor and was well armed, carrying a semi-automatic rifle, five handguns, and several magazines of ammunition.
After finishing his rampage in room 15, Harper-Mercer then began to target other parts of Snyder Hall.
One student told NBC News, “I turned around. I heard ‘active shooter,’ and I didn’t need to be told twice.” He was heading to class when he noticed students were running behind him. The student continued: “We don’t know which one of our colleagues are down.” Another witness, a Navy veteran studying to become a medic, said, “It sounded like a handgun. It wasn’t loud enough to be an assault rifle. Then I saw a guy with a handgun right outside — he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He was going toward the building, and he just disappeared into the building.”
A 20-year-old junior told the New York Times, “I was on the phone with my mom pretty much the entire time. I knew this could have been the last time I talked to her.” She saw a woman get shot in the stomach through a classroom door.
Thirty-year-old Chris Mintz was shot at least five times and has two broken legs after he tried to stop the shooter. His aunt told a local news station in North Carolina, where he grew up, that he “tries to block the door to keep the gunman from coming, gets shot three times, hits the floor, looks up at the gunman and says ‘It’s my son’s birthday today,’ gets shot two more times.”
Dozens of students hid in a cafeteria unsure of what was going on outside; others ran into the campus bookstore, hiding near the wall farthest from the door. One student told the Eugene Register-Guard that someone outside the door said, “Come on out, it’s okay,” but everyone was too terrified to check. Students and faculty were eventually evacuated to the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Before anyone was allowed on the buses, they were thoroughly searched for weapons. FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives officials quickly rushed to the scene to assist local responders.
Victims were sent to nearby hospitals, some of which canceled scheduled surgeries to free up resources. A spokesperson at PeaceHealth Medical Center told The Oregonian, “This is a disaster-level response.” Two people reportedly died while being transported to a hospital.
There are three women still being treated at PeaceHealth — two were shot in the head, and one in the spine. As of Saturday, only two patients remain at Mercy Medical Center, although one is still in critical condition. All are expected to survive.
At a press conference on Thursday, Douglas County sheriff John Hanlin confirmed that police exchanged gunfire with the suspect on campus – an officer reportedly cornered the gunman in a hall in Snyder. According to a timeline released Saturday, police arrived six minutes after the first 911 call, exchanged gunfire with the shooter two minutes later, then reported that the gunman was down two minutes after that. According to an autopsy, the shooter killed himself following his confrontation with police.
THE SCHOOL AND TOWN
Founded in 1961, the Umpqua Community College — one of 17 community colleges in the state — serves about 3,300 full-time and 16,000 part-time students, and offers degrees in areas such as trucking and nursing, and also has a institute dedicated to the local wine industry. It will remain closed until Monday.
Roseburg is a rural town in woody and mountainous southwest Oregon about 80 miles south of Eugene. It has a population of about 22,000 and was once a prosperous timber industry town, though lumber jobs have disappeared precipitously in the region.
On Friday night the Douglas County Sheriff’s office released the names of the nine people killed by the shooter, who ranged in age from 18 - 67. Below are short profiles of each of the nine victims, compiled from various media reports including the New York Times, The Oregonian, CNN, the Washington Post, and Roseburg’s News Review.
19-year-old Lucero Alcaraz had just graduated high school in June and was an artist and an honor student considering a career as a pediactric nurse. One of her five sisters wrote on Facebook, “I was so proud of you for getting you college completely paid through scholarships and you made it into college honors. You were going to do great things love.” A GoFundMe has been set up for her family to help cover the funeral expenses.
20-year-old Treven Anspach was an accomplished basketball player both in high school and at UCC. He was also the son of a local firefighter. In a statement released to the media, his family called him “a perfect son” who “was larger than life and brought out the best in those around him.” Speaking with the media, his former teammates remembered him as a “quiet leader” who “always seems to have his friends and family’s back.” His basketball coach said on Facebook that “All he wanted to do in life was to marry his high school sweetheart, be a firefighter like his dad, and to serve others.”
18-year-old Rebecka Carnes was from nearby Myrtle Creek, and had just graduated high school earlier this year. She wanted to be a dental hygenist, had been on her high school’s softball team, and worked at Roseburg’s Walmart when she wasn’t going to class. She was also the great-granddaughter of Senator Jeff Merkley’s cousin. A GoFundMe has been set up to help her family pay for her funeral.
Quinn Glen Cooper, 18, had also just graduated high school this year, and was starting his first semester of college. He studied martial arts, enjoyed playing the onling game Ingress with his older brother, and was taking theater classes and trying to master voice acting. A friend said Cooper was already very accomplished at Russian, Irish, and Jamaican accents. He also spoke German and was hoping to teach in Germany some day. A GoFundMe has been set up for the Cooper family.
British-born Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59, was seeking a bachelor’s degree in science after working as a caretaker at a local vineyard, and previously as an animal control officer in California. (She also owned two Great Pyrenees dogs herself.) Dietz was attending UCC with her teenage daughter, who was also on campus during the shooting, but not harmed. A GoFundMe has been launched to help her family handle the funeral costs.
18-year-old Lucas Eibel was an officer in the Future Farmers of America and a nature lover who walked dogs for local animal shelter and even walked a badger as a junior zookeeper at Wildlife Safari, a wild animal park in the state. An excellent student and recipient of two scholarships, Eibel was studying chemistry at UCC. He was also a fraternal quadruplet, and he and his sister and two brothers all graduated from high school this past June. He was also remembered by one friend as someone who was quiet at first, but once you got to know him, “very, very funny and very, very smart.” His family has asked that any donations in his name be made to the Roseburg FFA or other victims who were injured in the shooting.
Jason Johnson, 33, was in the process of restarting his life after overcoming years of drug addiction. In the past year he had completed his GED and a Salvation Army rehab program, then enrolled in UCC. His family said that they felt he had finally found his path, or, as his cousin’s put it, that Johnson had “a light in his eye that hadn’t been there before.” Said a friend that Johnson had made while in rehab, “Our brother was following his dream and sobered up and was becoming a productive member of society. He died a sober and upright man — a dude that was loving his family and an example for everyone.”
“The other day he looked at me,” his mother Tonja Johnson Engel told NBC News, “and hugged me and said, ‘Mom, how long have you been waiting for one of your kids to go to college?’ And I said, ‘Oh, about 20 years.’”
67-year-old Larry Levine, who was the adjunct professor teaching the English class where the shooting began, was an avid writer and accomplished fisherman who loved fishing the nearby North Umpqua River so much he lived in a small cabin on its banks and helped fight to protect it. He made most of his living as a fly fishing guide, but also bartended, wrote novels, poetry and essays, and taught on the side at UCC, where he was a popular instructor. Though he’d grown up in Beverly Hills, Levine eventually adopted rural Oregon as his natural home. A lifelong friend told the Oregonian that Larry “was the sweetest, most gentle, kind, thoughtful and creative person. My heart is broken.”
44-year-old Sarena Dawn Moore was an animal lover and active Seventh-day Adventist as well as an employee of her church in nearby Grants Pass. The New York Times reports that according to her friends, faith formed the foundation of Moore’s life, as well as her three sons. She had recently moved to Oregon with her youngest son after a divorce. A friend said she was going back to college to try to improve her life.
The gunman was armed with five handguns and a semi-automatic rifle; he was also wearing body armor and had five extra magazines left when police recovered his weapons. Law-enforcement officials later found more guns at the shooter’s home; NBC reports that he owned 13 firearms — all were purchased legally, although some of them were purchased by other people. Neighbors also report that he apparently went shooting regularly with his mom at a local shooting range.
ABC News reports that Harper Mercer may have given a thumb drive and some papers to someone at UCC before the shooting began. ABC describes the messages as “espousing racial and social hatred” and “expressing sexual frustration, racial animus toward black men and a general lack of accomplishment.”
Harper Mercer was enrolled at Umpqua Community College, and enrolled in the writing class where he focused most of his rampage. The previous year he had also been active in the college’s theater community, where he had previously been a set designer and crew member. One student told CNN that she took a theater class with the shooter; a Facebook post for a Noël Coward play being produced on campus this semester mentions a production assistant named Chris Harper Mercer.
Harper Mercer and his mother lived in Torrance, California, before moving less than two years ago to an apartment in Winchester, Oregon, which was swarming with law-enforcement officials on Thursday. He graduated from the Switzer Learning Center, a school for students with learning disabilities or emotional issues, in 2009. The family’s neighbors in California said the shooter’s mother would often complain about loud noises, saying they bothered her son. “She said, ‘My son is dealing with some mental issues, and the roaches are really irritating him.’” one woman told the New York Times. Another time, children playing outside in the middle of the day were cited as a disturbance; the next time, barking dogs.
In an online-dating profile he describes himself as “conservative, republican” and says “organized religion” is one of his dislikes. In comments left on another website, the killer seems to complain about never having had a girlfriend.
Harper Mercer’s MySpace page features a photo of him holding a gun and smiling at the camera. His profile also includes photos of Irish Republican Army propaganda. He also appeared to be a frequent user of BitTorrent: He uploaded his last file online three days ago, according to The Guardian; it was the BBC documentary Surviving Sandy Hook.
Federal authorities are investigating several posts on social media, plus an anonymous message board on 4chan where someone wrote, “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the Northwest” to see if they had anything to do with the shooting, according to the Times. 4chan has hosted hoaxes before, so the disturbing board is being treated with caution.
In addition to firearms, another subject Harper Mercer reportedly favored was other mass shootings. In a blog post linked to a separate online alias, Harper Mercer praises Vester Flanagan, who killed two journalists on air in Roanoke, Virginia, last month. He said people like Flanagan “have nothing left to live for,” adding, “On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are … A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
Harper Mercer was briefly in the Army; a spokesperson told The Oregonian, “A review of Army records indicate that Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer was in service at Ft. Jackson, S.C., from 5 November-11 December 2008 but discharged for failing to meet the minimum administrative standards to serve in the U.S. Army.”
Ian Mercer — the shooter’s father, who is from the U.K., where the gunman was born — told reporters in Los Angeles, “Shocked is all I can say. It’s been a devastating day.” He later added he had no idea his son owned any guns, and hoped U.S. laws would change to prevent people like his son from owning guns in the future. “How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal?” Harper Mercer’s father wondered. Harper Mercer’s mother was reportedly “crying her eyes out” on Thursday, according to a neighbor in Winchester who spoke to local-news station KIRO.
OREGON’S GUN LAWS
In 2013, Sheriff John Hanlin wrote a letter to Vice-President Joe Biden about the background-checks legislation being considered by Congress. “Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” he wrote, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Any actions against, or in disregard for our U.S. Constitution and 2nd Amendment rights by the current administration would be irresponsible and an indisputable insult to the American people.”
He added, “Any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the Constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.”
The Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University system’s gun ban in 2011 — which meant that students, or anyone, with a concealed-carry permit were allowed to carry firearms on campus. However, the state’s higher-education board instituted a new rule a year later that prohibited guns inside campus buildings. Outside, however, guns are still permitted.
At Umpqua last year, officials debated hiring an armed security guard to patrol campus — and eventually decided against it. The former college president, Joe Olson, told the New York Times, “If you want to come on the campus and you want to shoot five people, you are going to do that before our security would arrive.”
The Oregon State legislature passed expanded background-checks legislation in May.
A Guardian reporter visited a gun shop in Roseburg, where a few customers commented on how different yesterday could have been if the teachers had guns.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest spoke about the tragedy at Thursday’s press briefing, noting that when it comes to gun control the president is “quite realistic that we’ll need to see a fundamental change in terms of the way the American people communicate this priority to Congress before we’ll see a different outcome in the legislative process.”
President Obama discussed the shooting on Thursday evening, saying that “[O]ur thoughts and prayers are not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger we should feel.”
He added, his voice growing more passionate, that everything about these mass shootings is getting routine: the reporting, the anger, the response from gun-control opponents — “my response here at this podium ends up being routine.”
“We’ve become numb to this.”
He said that it was inevitable that someone would say that he was politicizing the shooting by arguing that legislative changes need to be made — and said that this was an issue that should be politicized. “We are collectively answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction,” Obama said.
The president added that if he had to offer a shooting response again — although he hoped he wouldn’t have to during his tenure — he promised to make the same appeal for political change.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in a shooting in 2011 and now runs an anti-gun-violence nonprofit, said in a statement, “It happened again … We can do better than this. We must do better than this. This is not the America we all strive for, is it?”
Delta State University, a public school in Mississippi where a shooting occurred earlier this month, tweeted to say it was thinking of UCC today.
The president of Virginia Tech also reached out to city manager Lance Colley.
Students, faculty, and family gathered for a candlelight vigil in a park in Roseburg on Thursday night. Governor Brown, Colley, and many professors spoke. “We know this is not going to be our defining moment,” a computer-science teacher said, according to the Times. “We’re going to go back to school Monday. We will not be terrorized, and we will not be intimidated by these types of people.”
Many of the 2016 presidential candidates have responded to the tragedy as well. Several Democratic candidates saw the shooting as another sign that gun-control measures need to be passed.
Meanwhile, many Republican candidates said that gun control is not the answer.
“You’re going to have these things happen and it’s a horrible thing to behold, horrible,” Donald Trump said. “It’s not politically correct to say that, but you’re going to have difficulty and that will be for the next million years, there’s going to be difficulty and people are going to slip through the cracks. What are you going to do, institutionalize everybody?”
“It’s very sad to see,” Jeb Bush said on Friday when asked about the shooting. “But I resist the notion — and I had this challenge as governor — because we had — look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
“Criminals don’t follow gun laws. Only law-abiding people follow gun laws,” Senator Marco Rubio said. “And there is just no evidence that these gun laws would prevent these shootings.” Ben Carson said something similar: “Gun control only works for normal law abiding citizens. It doesn’t work for crazies.”
This post has been updated throughout.