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.
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At least nine people were killed by the gunman and seven others were wounded. 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.
The NEWS-REVIEW newspaper reported that the gunman shot upwards of 20 people.
“We locked our door and I went out to lock up the rest rooms and could hear four shots from the front of campus,” said UCC Foundation Executive Director Dennis O’Neill to the NEWS-REVIEW. “We have heard there are casualties but know nothing more at this stage.”
The newspaper interviewed Kortney Moore, 18, who was in her Writing 115 class when one shot came through a window. She saw her teacher get shot in the head. The shooter was inside at that point, and he told people to get on the ground. The shooter was asking people to stand up and state their religion and then started firing away, Moore said. Moore was lying there with people who had been shot, the NEWS-REVIEW reported.
Authorities check bags as students and staff are moved off campus at Umpqua Community College after shooting report. pic.twitter.com/BvvHh0UYqN
— Michael Sullivan (@MikeSullPhoto) October 1, 2015
The Oregonian quoted Sgt. Dwes Hutson, a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, who said officers responded around 10:40 a.m. local time to reports of a shooting at the college.
In a tweet Thursday, the local fire district advised people to stay away from Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. The city is about 180 miles (300 kilometers) south of Portland.
Umpqua Community College is a small rural 2-year public community college with 2,045 students, 169 of them freshmen, according to the College Board. The makeup is 59 percent female, and 41 percent male. It is the regional center for higher education in the North Umpqua River Valley and offers certificate and associate degrees and is primarily a commuter campus. The average age is 28 for all students and 25 for full-time students. Part time students make up 53 percent of the student body. Its website was down Thursday.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that nine agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – seven from Portland, two from Eugene – sped to the scene.
BREAKING: ATF special agents on the scene of #UCCShooting tragedy.
— ATF HQ (@ATFHQ) October 1, 2015
Active shooter scene is code 4. Multiple casualties all pt’s transported. Media requests are being handled by Douglas County Major Crimes — Fire Dist No.2 (@DCFD2) October 1, 2015
A former president of the college, Joe Olson, said the school has only one security officer on duty at a time, and that person isn’t armed.
Olson, who retired in June, said 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.”
Olson says he suspects Thursday’s shooting will start a discussion across the country about how community colleges prepare for events like this.
Story compiled with information from the Associated Press.
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