Some say victims martyrs

By Mark Baker | Umpqua Community College Shootings | |

The headlines in recent days have emerged from across the country and beyond:

“Oregon gunman singled out Christians during rampage,” The New York Post said Thursday.

“Oregon shooter said to have singled out Christians for killing in ‘horrific act of cowardice,’ ” The Washington Post wrote on Friday.

“Oregon college shooting: Gunman ‘targeted Christians’ ” the BBC News in London posted online Friday, one day after 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer opened fire on an Introductory to Expository Writing class in Classroom 15 of Snyder Hall at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, killing eight students and their instructor before shooting himself to death during a gunbattle with police.

But did Harper-Mercer, who authorities say was enrolled in the writing class, really aim to kill those of the Christian faith during the worst mass shooting in Oregon history?

Stacy Boylan, the father of 18-year-old Anastasia Boylan, who was shot in the back during the massacre and has been recovering at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, told CNN News on Thursday that his daughter said the shooter specifically targeted Christians.

“‘Are you a Christian?’ he would ask them,” Stacy Boylan said during an interview outside the hospital. “And, ‘If you’re a Christian, stand up.’

“And they would stand up and he said: ‘Good, because you’re a Christian you’re going to see God in just about one second.’ And then he shot and killed them. And he kept going down the line and doing this to people.”

But during an interview conducted at the Springfield hospital by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and aired Monday morning, Anastasia Boylan did not mention the word “Christian” during her talk with ABC’s Neal Karlinksy.

“He had us get up, one by one, and asked us what our religions were. The shooter said (they) would only feel pain for a couple of seconds, and that (they) would be with God soon. And then he shot them.”

Boylan, who goes by Ana, sustained a bullet wound near her spine during the rampage, according to a posting by her aunt and uncle, Dani and Justin Boylan, of St. Helens, on the fundraising site gofundme.com. The campaign has raised more than $10,000 toward her medical expenses.

The bullet “missed all vital organs, and the surgeon was able to remove the bullet from near her spine with no apparent damage to her body,” the post said.

Efforts on Monday by The Register-Guard to contact the Boylan family through Facebook were not successful. Approached by a reporter at RiverBend, a family member declined a request to speak with Ana or other family members about the shooting.

Stacy Boylan, who attended a candlelight vigil for the victims in Alton Baker Park in Eugene on Sunday night, posted on his Facebook page on Sunday that his daughter chose the ABC program as a venue “to express what she felt and feels after surviving what I will only call as evil.”

Justin Boylan, during an interview on Sunday with Portland’s KATU-TV, reiterated the theme that students who identified as Christian were targeted.

If students said they were Christian, Harper-Mercer would say, “‘Good, you’re going to go see your God,’ and he’d shoot them in the head,” Justin Boylan said.

Ana Boylan’s grandmother, Janet Willis, repeated the assertion in a story reported by The Associated Press on Sunday.

Another survivor in the classroom, Rand McGowan, shared a somewhat different version of what transpired, according to his mother.

“Do you have a God?” McGowan’s mother, Stephanie Salas, was quoted as saying, relating what her son had told her. “Are you Christian? Do you have a religion?”

Conflicting reports

The theme of young Christian martyrs in mass shootings has surfaced before.

In the 1999 slaying of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado, initial reports suggested that one of the shooters asked Cassie Bernall if she believed in God moments before she was fatally shot.

Bernall was reported to have answered “yes.” That served as inspiration for several songs and a book written by Bernall’s mother entitled “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.”

Most examinations of witness testimony — by The Rocky Mountain News, USA Today, Salon.com and others — found that Bernall was not asked to say anything before she was shot. One witness account said that the shooter said “peek-a-boo” before shooting Bernall while she continued to pray silently.

Another Columbine victim, Rachel Scott, was described by her mother as a devout Christian. Scott has been the subject of several books and the inspiration for Rachel’s Challenge, a nationwide school outreach program to the prevention of teen violence.

The “targeted Christians” speculation in the Roseburg shooting has caught on like wildfire on social media, with the hashtag #iamachristian going viral online.

According to a report in newsmax.com, a conservative news media organization, and in several other media outlets, the hashtag was created by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson over the weekend in response to the shootings and the reports that the gunman targeted Christians.

Carson posted on both Twitter and Facebook on Friday — the day after Stacy Boylan’s interview with CNN — a photo of himself holding a piece of paper with “I Am a Christian” written on it with an ichthus, the ancient fish drawing representing Christianity.

Carson urged others to take similar photos and send them to him. Then he posted a photo with the hashtag written on it and urged people to use it for their profile picture on social media sites.

As of Monday night, Carson’s Friday post had more than 1.1 million “likes” on Facebook and had been shared more than 177,000 times.

Also, at 1:31 p.m. Thursday, someone with the handle @bodhilooney on Twitter posted that her grandmother was “at the scene of the carnage” and said that the shooter asked victims if they were Christian. If they answered yes, “then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.”

That tweet was “retweeted” more than 750 times and “favorited” more than 500 times as of Monday afternoon.

It’s been reported that Harper-Mercer left behind a two-page “manifesto,” but investigators, including the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, have not confirmed or denied speculations that the shooter targeted Christians.

The manifesto included rantings about not having a girlfriend and thinking everyone else was “crazy,” a law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Monday.

The official also said Harper-Mercer’s mother, Laurel Harper, has told investigators her son was struggling with mental health issues.

Harper-Mercer wrote something to the effect of: “Other people think I’m crazy, but I’m not. I’m the sane one,” the official said.

During her ABC interview, Ana Boylan said: “He sounded really deranged, because he said he’d been waiting to do that for a really long time — and he laughed. He laughed after he shot the teacher.”

Address emails to mark.baker@registerguard.com . Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkBakerRG .