ROSEBURG, Ore. — A 26-year-old man opened fire on a community college campus here in a rampage that left 10 people dead and seven 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 underway in a college humanities building, and people fleeing in panic from classrooms as they heard shots ring out nearby.
The college, Umpqua Community College, went into lockdown, and the gunman died in an exchange of gunfire with police officers who responded, law enforcement officials said.
With anxious parents waiting at a fairground near the campus and the police going from classroom to classroom, authorities’ reports of the death toll varied throughout the day.
Residents gathered at a Roseburg, Oregon, park for a vigil for the victims. The crowd gathered around 8 p.m. at Stewart Park. Many people held up candles as the hymn “Amazing Grace” was played.
At an evening news conference, John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County, said that he believed there were 10 dead, calling the toll the “best, most accurate information we have at this time.” He declined to say whether the gunman was included in the death toll.
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 other ones handguns. It was not clear whether he fired them all. The officials said the man lived in the Roseburg area.
They said one witness told them that he 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.
Hanlin said at a news conference that he would not speak the gunman’s name.
“Let me be very clear, I will not name the shooter,” he said. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.”
He also encouraged reporters “not to glorify and create sensationalism for him. He in no way deserves it.”
The massacre added the community college to a string of schools that have been left grieving after mass shootings, a list that runs from Columbine High School in 1999 to Virginia Tech in 2007 to the killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
President Barack Obama, in an impassioned appearance at the White House, said that grief was not enough, and he implored Americans “whether they are Democrats or Republicans or independents,” to consider their representatives’ stance on gun control when they voted and to decide “whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor.”
“But as I said just a few months ago,” he said, his voice rising to a higher pitch, “and I said a few months before that, and I’ve said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough.”
State and local officials all expressed shock. Gov. Kate Brown said at a news conference that she felt “profound dismay and heartbreak.”
The first reports of shots came at 10:38 a.m. Pacific time, on what was the fourth day of the new session. Students said they took place in Classroom 15 in a building called Snyder that houses many English and writing classes.
Cassandra Welding, a 20-year-old junior, was in Classroom 16 — next to the shooting — and heard several loud bursts, like balloons popping. There were about 20 people in the classroom.
A middle-aged 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 her into the room and began delivering CPR, Welding said. 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.”
She 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 only 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 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.”
Kortney Moore, 18, from Rogue River, told the Roseburg newspaper, The News-Review, that the gunman was asking people to stand up and state their religion and then started firing. She said she saw her teacher shot in the head, adding that she herself was on the floor with people who had been shot.
Federal law enforcement officials said they were examining an online conversation on 4chan, an anonymous message board, as well as other social media trying to determine whether any of it was linked to the gunman. In that conversation, one writer says: “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the Northwest.”
Roseburg, about 180 miles south of Portland with a population of 22,000, is a part of the Pacific Northwest that in many ways has been left behind as the region has moved on 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 have declined.
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.
The college, with about 3,000 students, reflects that struggle, with many of its students coming back to school to gain skills for a career change. The average student is 37 years old, and popular courses of study 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 at the end of June, said that within the past several months the college had discussed hiring an armed security guard, but had ultimately 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, that 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 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the agency was sending teams from Seattle, Portland and Eugene — some will be canine teams. They will join a team already on the ground that is helping search for firearms casings and other ammunition.
The apartment complex where the gunman had lived was roped off with police tape and under guard by deputies last night. Bronte Hart, 21, said she lived beneath Mercer, who she said would frequently shout at her for smoking on her balcony.
“He yelled at us, me and my husband,” said Hart, who lives in the complex with her husband and father. “He was not a friendly type of guy. He did not want anything to do with anyone.”
Hart and her father, Eli Loomas, said the authorities showed up at the complex in the morning and began asking questions about their neighbor.
Eight miles south of the college, at a cordoned off hall on the Douglas County Fairgrounds, family members spent agonizing hours waiting to hear of possible victims as students were evacuated there.
“The police searched everybody,” Winder, one of the students, said, “searching their jackets and bags for weapons, before putting them on buses.”
Among those waiting was Jessica Chandler, whose daughter, 18-year-old Rebecka Carnes, started classes at Umpqua on Monday. Her daughter, an aspiring dental hygienist, had not responded to dozens of calls.
A friend told Chandler the teen had been taken to a nearby hospital, but police and hospital officials would not confirm that.
“She always has her cellphone and is always in contact,” Chandler said, smoking a cigarette outside the family waiting area. “I want to know where my kid is.”
Many students at the school talked about tiny details that stuck with them as they ran, and how they tried to piece together information as they hid, and hoped to stay alive.
Joanah Fallin was headed toward the campus around 10:30 a.m. when he saw a police car go by at what he estimated was 120 mph.
“I’ve never seen any car go that fast,” he said.
By the time he reached campus, it was already in mayhem.
“Lot of people were crying,” Fallin said. “There was a woman with a child. It was just unbelievable.”
Luke Rogers, another student, was in the building next door to the shooting when he heard gunfire ring out nearby.
Rogers said he and his classmates were locked in the building from 10:30 a.m. until noon, with the only access to information about the shooting that unfolded in the adjacent building from texts from friends and family.
“When we exited the building the officers made us put our hands above our heads and leave in a single-file line,” he said. “As we passed Snyder hall we saw the doors open and on the ground there were drops of blood.”