ROSEBURG — A gunman killed nine people and injured seven others during a shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College on Thursday morning, shocking residents statewide and drawing the eyes of the nation to the stunned rural community.
The gunman, who most likely acted alone, died in a shootout with two law enforcement officers, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said at press conference. Because the shooting has been deemed a “mass casualty” event, Hanlin, citing protocol, declined Thursday evening to release any of the victims’ names or to reveal the shooter’s identity and potential motives.
But several national media outlets, including The New York Times, reported Thursday evening that the shooter was 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer of the Roseburg area. Citing anonymous sources, the reports said Harper-Mercer carried three guns, including at least one long gun.
Authorities were reported to have searched Harper-Mercer’s Winchester apartment late Thursday.
In an evening press conference, a visibly frustrated Hanlin said he would never utter the shooter’s name.
“I will not give him the credit he probably sought with this horrific and cowardly act,” Hanlin said. “We would encourage the media and the community to avoid using the shooter’s name. … He in no way deserves it.”
Hanlin and other officials provided scant information about the shooting, saying their investigation was ongoing. But numerous UCC students, witnesses and family members provided many details.
The shooting, which occurred during the community college’s first week of classes, rocked the blue-collar, longtime timber town, while immediately reigniting the national debate about guns and gun control legislation.
That fierce discussion ensnared Hanlin himself on Thursday, when it emerged that the sheriff wrote to Vice President Joe Biden after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to ask him not to “tamper with or attempt to amend” the Second Amendment and warning that Hanlin and his deputies would not enforce any law they regarded as unconstitutional.
For Roseburg, it was the second school shooting in less than a decade. In 2006, a freshman at Roseburg High School shot and wounded a fellow student. The high school hired security guards after that shooting.
Thursday’s incident, which began about 10:30 a.m., was concentrated in and around one classroom, a writing and speech class in Snyder Hall, witnesses told The Register-Guard. Witnesses spoke of hearing a loud thud and subsequent gunfire. Some hid behind their desks. Others fled the school.
Kortney Moore, 18, from Rogue River, told The News-Review of Roseburg that she saw her teacher shot in the head. The shooter was inside the classroom at that point, and he told people to get on the ground, she said. The shooter was asking people to stand up and state their religion and then started firing, she added.
McCrae Kittelman, 17, was in the tutoring center several hundred feet from the Snyder building when the shooting occurred. He said his teacher, who is normally calm, came “in an extreme panic” and yelled for everyone to get into the teacher’s office and get down behind the desks. The students in the class hid behind the desks until authorities arrived and swept the building, releasing classrooms one by one, he said.
Local law enforcement responded to 911 calls. Harper-Mercer died after a shootout, but officials did not clarify whether he was shot by law enforcement or killed himself. Local law enforcement were followed by other authorities, including officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. By Thursday evening, law enforcement officials and bomb squads had cleared all the school’s buildings and were still going through hundreds of vehicles in UCC’s parking lots.
The FBI is asking those with information about the attack to call their tip line: 800-225-5324.
Interim community college President Rita Calvin said security officers are on campus around the clock, but are not armed. The campus is a gun-free zone.
“This has been a long, sad, tragic day at UCC,” she said, while noting the rush of people who came forward to “help and comfort us.”
“It’s one of the blessings of a small town, we are so interconnected,” Calvin added.
The community college will remain closed until Monday.
Former UCC President Joe Olson told The Associated Press that last year one of the biggest debates on campus was whether the school should have armed security officers. He said the college had three training exercises with local law agencies in the past two years, “but you can never be prepared for something like this.”
After the school was secured, students and faculty members were bused to the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Some families tearfully reunited Thursday afternoon, while some students’ relatives waited anxiously.
Students relied on texting and social media to reassure family members that they were safe — but in at least one instance that resulted in a scary misunderstanding.
Becky Holm said she didn’t immediately get an initial text message from her daughter, Kayleen, advising her that she was in a chemistry lab about 100 feet from where the shooting occurred and that she thought she was safe.
When her mother didn’t respond, Kayleen sent a second text message: “I love you.”
Becky Holm said she became frantic, fearful that the second message meant that the shooter had made his way to the chemistry lab.
Ultimately, the two were reunited at the county fairgrounds. Kayleen, 18, broke into tears.
“When I woke up this morning, my biggest trouble was that the dog didn’t want to come back inside,” Becky Holm said later. “I didn’t even consider there might be someone gunning for my daughter. You never know when our precious lives will be over.”
A total of 10 people were taken to Mercy Medical Center at Roseburg on Thursday morning. One died in the emergency room, while three others were flown to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield. Four patients remained at Mercy Medical Center Thursday night, and two had already been treated and released.
Of the three taken to RiverBend, one was in critical condition; the other two were in serious condition, hospital spokesman Jim Godbold said. All three are women, between the ages of 18 and 34.
Dr. Hans Notenboom said RiverBend staff had flocked to help the patients, and that there had been “an outpouring of support from the community.”
Gov. Kate Brown ordered flags lowered to half-staff at all public institutions until Friday evening.
In Springfield, the shooting was a vivid reminder of the 1998 shooting at Thurston High School, during which expelled student Kip Kinkel shot and killed two students and injured 25 more.
“Today was a hard day and our thoughts are with our colleagues, students and family in times like this. We all know how difficult these situations are for everyone, particularly our Springfield community,” Springfield School District Superintendent Susan Rieke-Smith said.