Father of injured student: Umpqua Community College shooter targeted Christians

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ROSEBURG, Oregon– The gunman who opened fire at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in Oregon targeted Christians specifically, according to the father of a wounded student.

Before going into spinal surgery, Anastasia Boylan told her father and brother the gunman entered her classroom firing.

The professor in the class was shot point blank. Others were hit too, she told her family.

Everyone in the classroom dropped to the ground.

The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up and asked if they were Christians, Boylan told her family.

“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,'” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying her account.

“And then he shot and killed them.”

Boylan, 18, was hit in the back by a bullet that traveled down her spine. She is expected to survive.

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The gunman

The masacre on the Umpqua campus Thursday left 10 people dead and seven wounded. The gunman also died, although it’s not clear whether he was shot by police or committed suicide.

Speaking to reporters Thursday night, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin refused to identify the shooter.

“I will not name the shooter,” Hanlin said. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought.”

Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation identified the shooter as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer.

One law enforcement official said the shooter had body armor with him and was heavily armed, with a large amount of ammunition — enough for a prolonged gunfight. Authorities recovered three pistols and one rifle at the scene, one official said.

Authorities credited a quick response by law enforcement for keeping the death toll from climbing higher.

Huddled together

The shooting appears to have started in one building before the gunman moved to the school’s science building, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN. Those killed and wounded were found in at least two classrooms.

Cassandra Welding is a student at the Roseburg campus and was in class when the shooting started.

“I heard a popping noise, almost like a balloon popping,” she said. “I knew something wasn’t right and so I get down.”

She said all of the students in her classroom dropped to the ground. They huddled together behind backpacks and chairs, underneath tables.

“We locked the doors, turned off the lights, and we were all pretty much in panic mode,” Welding said.

“We called 911 and called our parents, our loved ones … We didn’t know what was going to happen, if those were our last words or not.”

The community

The school is located on a hill outside the city center, according to Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst who lives nearby. Francona said that logging is a big industry in the region, which is fairly rural but easily accessible from Interstate 5.

“This is so out of character for this whole area,” he said.

News of the shooting quickly reached Washington, with the state’s senior senator, Ron Wyden, visibly shaken and Sen. Jeff Merkley tweeting that he was praying for the victims and their families.

U.S. President Barack Obama pushed for a change in gun laws when he spoke to reporters about the shooting Thursday.

“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this,” he said.

The President continued: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now.”

The school

A picturesque campus in the North Umpqua River Valley, Umpqua Community College prides itself on a “a peaceful, safe atmosphere, and year-round recreational activities,” according to its website.

It’s not a traditional institution of higher learning, as the average age of its 13,600 students was 38 during the 2013-2014 school year. Only 740 of those were full time, 2,437 were part time and more than 10,000 fell under the umbrella of “community education.”

It first began teaching classes out of rented facilities in 1961. Elton and Ruth Jackson donated 98.5 acres to house the campus in 1965.

The school will be closed until Monday as a result of the shooting.

The interim leader of Umpqua Community College called Thursday “the saddest day in the history of the college.”