ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) — Armed with multiple guns, a 26-year-old man walked into a morning writing class at the community college in this rural Oregon town and opened fire, hitting some students with multiple gunshots. A witness said a teacher was struck in the head.
At least nine people were killed by the gunman and one witness said the attacker demanded to know students’ religion before shooting them on Thursday, the fourth day of class at Umpqua Community College.
Students in a classroom next door heard several shots, one right after the next, and their teacher told them to leave. Student Hannah Miles said: “We began to run. A lot of my classmates were going every which way. We started to run to center of campus. And I turned around, and I saw students pouring out of the building.”
The worst mass shooting in recent Oregon history was raising questions about security at the Umpqua Community College.
“I suspect this is going to start a discussion across the country about how community colleges prepare themselves for events like this,” said the college’s former president, Joe Olson.
The killer was identified as Chris Harper Mercer, according to a government official who was not authorized to speak publicly and provided the name on condition of anonymity. The gunman died following a shootout with police.
Police were not saying whether they knew of any motive.
The shooting on the campus in this former timber town 180 miles south of Portland shattered the first week of classes at the community college with about 3,000 students.
Mercer lived in a nearby apartment complex, which was cordoned off with yellow tape Thursday night.
A neighbor, Bronte Harte, told The Associated Press that Mercer “seemed really unfriendly” and would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light.”
Harte said a woman she believed to be Mercer’s mother also lived upstairs and was “crying her eyes out” Thursday.
In the Los Angeles-area suburb of Torrance where Mercer lived for a short time several years ago, neighbors recalled him as uncommunicative.
Ian Mercer, Chris Harper Mercer’s father, spoke to KABC-TV and several other media outlets gathered outside his house in Tarzana, California, late Thursday night.
He said it’s been a “devastating day” for him and his family and he has been talking to police and the FBI about the shooting.
Step-sister Carmen Nesnick told KCBS-TV the shooting didn’t make sense.
“All he ever did was put everyone before himself, he wanted everyone to be happy,” she said.
The county sheriff said at a news conference he was not going to say the shooter’s name because that’s what he would have wanted.
“I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” said a visibly angry John Hanlin.
Roseburg is in Douglas County, a politically conservative region west of the Cascade Range where people like to hunt and fish and pursue other outdoor activities.
But it’s no stranger to school gun violence. A freshman at the local high school shot and wounded a fellow student in 2006.
On Thursday, anguished parents and other relatives rushed to surviving students.
Jessica Chandler was desperately seeking information about her 18-year-old daughter, Rebecka Carnes.
“I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if she’s wounded,” Chandler said.
Carnes’ best friend told Chandler that her daughter had been flown by helicopter to a hospital.
Students described utter fear and panic on hearing the shots.
Sarah Cobb, 17, was in a next-door classroom. She heard a shot. A teacher said they needed to get out, and the class ran out the door as she heard two more shots.
“I was freaking out. I didn’t know what to think, what to do,” she said.
Before the Roseburg shooting, a posting on the message-board site 4chan included a photo of a crudely drawn frog used regularly in Internet memes with a gun and warned other users not to go to school Thursday in the Northwest. The messages that followed spoke of mass shootings, with some egging on and even offering tips to the original poster. It was unclear if the messages were tied to the shooting because of the largely anonymous nature of the site.
Hanlin said authorities were still informing relatives of the dead.
“It’s been a terrible day,” a grim-faced Hanlin said. “Certainly this is a huge shock to our community.”
The sheriff has been vocal in opposing state and federal gun-control legislation. In 2013, Hanlin sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden after the shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school, declaring that he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun-control restrictions “offending the constitutional rights of my citizens.”
Hundreds went to a candlelight vigil with many raising candles as the hymn “Amazing Grace” was played.
Sam Sherman, a former student, said the school helped broaden his opportunities.
“That’s all I could think about today. There’s 10, 9 kids who won’t get those doors opened,” he said.
Associated Press writers Steven Dubois and Jonathan J. Cooper in Portland, Oregon; Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California; Michael R. Blood in Torrance, California; Gene Johnson and Donna Blankinship in Seattle; and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report. Brian Melley contributed writing from Los Angeles.