Sheriff: Gunman enrolled in class where Oregon college shootings happened

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ROSEBURG, Oregon-  Douglas County, Oregon, Sheriff John Hanlin said in a news release Friday that gunman Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer was enrolled in the class where the fatal shootings occurred at Umpqua Community College.

Investigators found 13 weapons connected to the man who killed nine people at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, Celinez Nunez of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives said Friday at a news conference.

Six weapons were found at the college, where the shooter died Thursday after a gun battle with police, she said. Seven weapons were found at his residence.

She said all weapons were legally obtained through a federal firearms dealer during the last three years by the shooter or family members.

A flak jacket was found next to a rifle at the school with five magazines of ammunition, she said, and additional ammunition was found at the residence.

Authorities are still not providing a motive for America’s latest mass killing, which also left nine people wounded. They also haven’t named any of the victims or the shooter.

The man went to the college in rural south Oregon with handguns and a long rifle Thursday morning and shot people in two buildings, authorities said.

Stacy Boylan, the father of shooting victim Anastasia Boylan, said she told him the gunman singled out Christians.

She said the gunman entered her classroom firing, told the professor teaching the class, “I’ve been waiting to do this for years,” and shot him point blank, Stacy Boylan said.

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,’ ” Stacy Boylan, told CNN, relaying his daughter’s account.

“And then he shot and killed them.”

Anastasia Boylan, 18, was hit in the back by a bullet that traveled down her spine. While she lay bleeding on the floor, the gunman called out to her, “Hey you, blond woman,” her mother said. She played dead — and survived.

Another intriguing element in the investigation: The shooter is reported to have delivered “a box” to someone during the shooting.

Stacy Boylan said his daughter told him the man “gave somebody a box, somebody who lived, and said, ‘You gotta deliver this.’ Somebody has a box. I don’t know what that’s about.”

It was also revealed that the gunman handed writings to a survivor, telling that person to give it to police, law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation said. Law enforcement officials could not confirm the writings were inside the box.


The gunman

The gunman also died Thursday, although it’s unclear whether he was shot by police or committed suicide.

Speaking Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day,” Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said he had not heard anything about the gunman asking victims about their religion.

He also wouldn’t talk about why the shooting happened, saying, “It’s really too early to tell what the motive was.”

Hanlin reiterated that he will not officially identify the gunman, leaving that task to the state medical examiner’s office.

“I don’t want to glorify the shooter, I don’t want to glorify his name, I don’t want to glorify his cause,” Hanlin said. “I’m refusing to state his name. … You won’t hear his name from me or this investigation.”

Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation identified the gunman as Chris Harper Mercer, 26.

It was unclear if Mercer was a student at the college. Rita Cavin, interim president of the school, said Mercer was not believed to be a current student, but some students said they took courses with him.

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.

The motive

The gunman’s death means officials will never definitively know what compelled him to carry out the attack at the Roseburg campus, about 180 miles south of Portland.

“He was a little odd, like sensitive to things,” said Rebecca Miles, who took a theater class with Mercer.

Throughout Thursday night, investigators talked to the gunman’s family and neighbors to try to piece together the puzzle.

“Obviously it’s been a devastating day,” Mercer’s father, Ian, told reporters outside his house in Tarzana, California. “Devastating for me and my family.”

Mercer apparently served a brief time in the military.

“A review of Army records indicate that Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer was in service at Ft. Jackson, S.C., from 5 November-11 December 2008 but discharged for failing to meet the minimum administrative standards to serve in the U.S. Army,” the Pentagon said in a news release.

Bronte Hart, who lives in the building where Mercer lived, said the man would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light.”

Hart said a woman she believed to be Mercer’s mother lived with him and was “crying her eyes out” Thursday.

Another neighbor, Steven Fisher, described him as “skittish.”

“His demeanor, the way he moved, always looking around,” Fisher said. “I got a bad vibe from him.”

The blog posts

One avenue investigators were pursuing are blog posts on a website left by someone with an email address associated with Mercer.

The writings include ramblings about his racial animus toward black people and general feelings of anger about being isolated and unable to make relationships, law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation tell CNN.

The gunman’s family told investigators after the shooting that he suffered from mental health issues and had sought treatment for those issues, two officials said.

Police are reviewing the writings, which also reflect an apparent fascination with the Irish Republican Army, one law enforcement official said. A MySpace page believed to belong to the gunman, which included photos of him, included photos of IRA posters.

But investigators so far have found no indication he was linked with any organized groups.

The posts were left under the username lithium_love. Two of them were specifically about recent shootings: one about Vester Flanagan, who killed two local news reporters in Virginia, and one about the officer slain near Houston in August.

Speaking of Flanagan on August 31, the blog post reads: “I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

The post also said, “And I have to say, anyone who knew him could have seen this coming. People like him have nothing left to live for, and the only thing left to do is lash out at a society that has abandoned them.”

The father of TV reporter Alison Parker, who was killed in the Virginia shooting, has written an opinion story in USA Today saying the United States is at war and calling for gun restrictions.

The injured

Initially, 10 wounded people were taken to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, but one died in an emergency room, hospital spokeswoman Kathleen Nickel said Friday.

All those people had gunshot wounds to the head, abdomen and limbs, Dr. Jason Gray, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said Friday morning at a news conference.

Three people with gunshot wounds to the head were transferred to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield, he said. One of those patients is in critical condition and two are in serious condition, Nickel said. CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta said those three patients were women between the ages of 18 and 34.

Four patients underwent surgery at Mercy Medical, Gray said. One is in critical condition and two are in fair to good condition, he said. One surgery patient was discharged, he said.

On Thursday, two wounded people were treated in the emergency room and released, he said.

Gray said retired physicians and medical professionals who were on their days off rushed to the hospital to help care for the wounded.

Officials haven’t released the names of the victims, with Sheriff Hanlin saying investigators are “still trying to confirm a great amount of information floating around.” The Identities may be released Friday or Saturday, he said.

‘I knew exactly what had just happened’

The shooting appears to have started in one building, before the gunman moved to another building. Those killed and wounded were found in at least two classrooms. Calvin, the college’s interim president, said the gunman initially opened fire in an English class.

Thursday was freshman Sarah Cobb’s fourth day at the college. She was in a nearby building when she heard the first gunshot.

“I looked over outside, and people were running away from the building, so I knew exactly what had just happened,” she said. “I said to the teacher, ‘We got to get out of here. There’s people running. We need to go.’ Then I heard the second and third gunshots happen.”

Another student, Cassandra Welding, said that when the shots rang out, the students in her class dropped to the ground — huddling behind backpacks and chairs, or underneath tables.

“We locked the doors, turned off the lights, and we were all pretty much in panic mode,” she 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 investigation

Sheriff Hanlin said officers have canvassed the campus and investigated the suspect’s residence.

“Our victims and their families are our priority. Everything that we do from here on will be for them,” he said Thursday night.

The picturesque campus sits on a hill in a logging community, which is fairly rural but easily accessible from Interstate 5.

Roseburg has about 22,000 residents, and Umpqua isn’t a traditional college. The average age of its 13,600 students was 38 during the 2013-2014 school year.

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

The community

Crowds gathered Thursday night at a park to honor the victims. Some hugged, others wept as candles flickered in the dark. Bagpipes played in the background.

From 2009 to 2012, the area reported no sex offenses, assaults, liquor law violations, weapons possessions or hate crimes. Not even a robbery. The only crime listed was burglary: eight in 2009-2010, 11 in 2010-2011 and two in 2011-2012, according to the school’s own reporting.

“This is so out of character for this whole area,” said Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst who lives in the area.

The reaction

News of the shooting quickly reverberated through Washington and the 2016 campaign trail.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton called for “sensible gun control measures,” while Republican presidential contender Ben Carson said more gun control is not the answer.

A visibly upset President Barack Obama, delivering the 15th statement of his presidency addressing gun violence, said these incidents are becoming all too regular.

“Somehow this has become routine,” he said. “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.

“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.”

Alek Skarlatos, the Oregon national guardsman recognized for helping to stop an armed terrorist aboard a train in France, told CNN affiliate KATU that he was a student at the school and would have been attending this semester if he hadn’t agreed to appear on “Dancing with the Stars.”

“It breaks my heart something like this would happen in Roseburg of all places,” he said. “This community is so small that everybody will know somebody hurt or killed in this attack.”

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