Law-enforcement officials identified the gunman as Chris Harper Mercer and said he had three weapons, at least one of them a long gun and the others handguns.
ROSEBURG, Ore. — A 26-year-old man opened fire on a community-college campus in Roseburg on Thursday, leaving at least 10 people dead and seven others wounded, and turned this rural stretch of southern Oregon into the latest American locale ravaged by a mass shooting.
Students described scenes of carnage concentrated in a public-speaking class that was under way in a college humanities building, and people fleeing in panic from classrooms as they heard shots ring out nearby.
The police responded as the school, Umpqua Community College, went into lockdown, and the gunman died in an exchange of gunfire, law-enforcement officials said.
Umpqua Community College
City: Roseburg, Ore.
Enrollment: About 2,000; roughly half attend full-time (40 percent men, 60 percent women)
Programs offered: Associate’s degrees, certifications; also home to the Southern Oregon Wine Institute
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
With anxious parents waiting at a fairgrounds near the campus and the police going from classroom to classroom, reports of the death toll varied throughout the day.
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At an evening news conference, John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County, said he believed there were 10 dead, calling the toll the “best, most accurate information we have at this time.” An FBI spokeswoman said the gunman was included in that number.
Law-enforcement officials identified the gunman as Chris Harper Mercer and said he had three weapons, at least one of them a long gun and the others handguns. It was not clear whether he fired them all.
Officials said one witness told them the gunman asked about people’s religions before he began firing.
“He appears to be an angry young man who was very filled with hate,” one law-enforcement official said.
Investigators are poring over what one official described as “hateful” writings by Mercer. The FBI has dispatched dozens of agents to assist in the investigation.
The apartment complex in nearby Winchester where the gunman had lived was roped off with police tape and under guard by deputies late Thursday. Bronte Hart, 21, said she lived beneath Mercer, who she said would frequently shout at her for smoking on her balcony.
Hart said Mercer would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light.”
She said a woman she believed to be Mercer’s mother also lived upstairs and was “crying her eyes out” Thursday.
Listen to 911 call
Federal law-enforcement officials also said they were examining an online conversation on 4chan, an anonymous message board, and other social media trying to determine whether any of it was linked to the shooter. In that conversation, one writer says: “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest.”
In the first frantic series of police recordings Thursday, a dispatcher can be heard saying the gunman was “outside one of the doors shooting through the doors” of a school building, with 35 people inside.
Several minutes into the recording, an officer is heard describing a gunbattle with the assailant, concluding with a shout: “The suspect is down” and asking for “as many ambulances as possible.”
The shooting was among the worst mass school shootings in the past two decades, including the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, in which 13 people were killed, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012, which claimed 26 lives.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, grim-faced at a news conference, said she felt “profound dismay and heartbreak.”
The first reports of shots came at 10:38 a.m. on what was the fourth day of the new session. Students said the shots took place in classroom 15 in Snyder Hall, which houses many English and writing classes.
Cassandra Welding, 20, a junior, was in a classroom next to the shooting and heard several loud bursts, like balloons popping. There were about 20 people in the classroom.
A woman behind her rose to shut the classroom door and was struck in the stomach by several bullets.
“He was just out there, hanging outside the door,” Welding said of the gunman, “and she slumped over and I knew something wasn’t right. And they’re like, ‘She got shot, she got shot.’ And everyone is panicking.”
A friend of the injured woman dragged the woman into the room and began delivering CPR, said Welding. Someone clicked the door shut, and the students huddled in the corner, blocking themselves with desks and backpacks.
“I heard more shooting,” she said. “It was horrific. My whole body was shaking, a chill was going down my spine. We called 911.”
Welding added: “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.”
Brady Winder, 23, who moved to Roseburg three weeks ago, was in a writing class.
“We heard one shot,” Winder said. “It sounded like someone dropped something heavy on the floor, and everybody was kind of startled. There’s a door connecting our classroom to that classroom, and my teacher was going to knock on the door, but she called out, ‘Is everybody OK?’ and then we heard a bunch more shots.
“We all froze for about half a second. Everybody’s head turned and looked at each other, trying to just grasp what was happening, and someone said, ‘Those are gunshots.’ We heard people screaming next door. And then everybody took off. People were hopping over desks, knocking things over.”
There were reports the gunman asked students’ religion as he went.
Kortney Moore, 18, of Rogue River, told The (Roseburg) News-Review the gunman asked people to stand up and state their religion, then started firing. She said she saw her teacher get shot in the head, adding that she was on the floor with people who had been shot.
Roseburg, about 180 miles south of Portland with a population of 22,000, is a corner of the Pacific Northwest that in many ways has been left behind as the region has moved toward an economy of technology and high wages. Once a major center for wood-milling, it has struggled in recent decades as the timber harvest in the national forests that hug the community has declined.
A growth of wine-grape cultivation has helped some, but poverty and unemployment rates are high. In August, according to the most recent government figures, Douglas County had an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, tied with another county for the second-highest rate in the state. About 20 percent of residents in the city and county live below the federal poverty line in income.
The college reflects that struggle, with many of its students back in school to gain skills for a career change. The average student is 37 years old, and popular courses include winemaking, nursing, welding and auto mechanics.
“It’s a community college, so a lot of our friends and family attend this college,” Hanlin said.
Joe Olson, who retired as president of Umpqua Community College in June, said that within the past several months the college had discussed hiring an armed security guard but had decided against it.
“We talked about that over the last year because we were concerned about safety on campus,” he said. “The campus was split 50-50. We thought we were a very safe campus, and having armed security officers on campus might change the culture.”
He added, though, he did not believe a security guard could prevent a gunman determined to kill.
“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,” he said.
Oregon is one of seven states, either from state legislation or court rulings, with provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The other states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Utah and Wisconsin.
Numerous law-enforcement agencies responded to Thursday’s shooting. Corey Ray, a spokesman with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the agency was sending teams from Seattle, Portland and Eugene, and that some will be canine teams. They will join a team already on the ground that is helping search for firearms casings and other ammunition.
More on Mercer
Before moving to Oregon, Mercer and his mother were familiar faces in the tight-knit Torrance, Calif., apartment complex where they lived for several years.
Neighbors described them as quiet people who kept to themselves and rarely socialized with others. Mercer was often seen riding a red beach cruiser bike and wearing military-style green pants with black boots.
One thing stood out: Several people said they sometimes noticed the mother and son carrying black cases that appeared to hold firearms.
David Westly, 45, said some neighbors had asked Mercer about the weapons at a community barbecue. Westly said Mercer didn’t respond to the question but said he enjoyed going target shooting.
A relative of Mercer’s said he lived for “most of his life” with his mom. The relative described him as “quiet, to be honest with you,” and grew up mostly in the Torrance area. He has a half-sister who lives in Los Angeles County.
She said he went into the Army at one point but could not provide a date or say why he left.