ROSEBURG, Ore. (US) Oct 2 — A rural community college became the site of America’s latest mass shooting on Thursday (Friday Malaysia) as a lone gunman burst into classrooms during the school day and mowed down terrified students before being shot dead in a firefight with police, authorities said.
Officials said nine people were killed, plus the gunman, and seven injured during the traumatic events at Umpqua Community College, about three hours south of Portland.
A federal law enforcement official identified the gunman as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer of nearby Winchester, Ore. On Thursday evening, Gloria Buhring, a resident of Winchester, said that her apartment complex was swarmed by police and that residents who left their homes earlier in the day could not return because much of the area was sealed off by police tape.
Mercer was described as wearing a dark shirt and jeans and spewing bullets from what appeared to be three pistols and possibly a semiautomatic rifle.
Students told of hiding between desks and huddling in darkness as the shooter methodically sought out victims. Some students who are military veterans guarded the doors, which did not lock, in case the shooter tried to enter.
“There’s a shooter! Run! Run! Get out of there!” groups of students screamed as they ran out of Snyder Hall, where the rampage started, according to Kenneth Ungerman, 25, a student at the college. Ungerman said he and a National Guard recruiter sought cover underneath his Jeep, then rolled out from under it “and took off,” he said.
Jasmyne Davis, 19, was in class when the gunfire began. She said she heard one gunshot, followed by a 30-second pause, an argument and eight more shots from the classroom next door. “Close the door!” yelled a female classmate who ran out of the classroom, was shot in the arm and fell back into the room.
As authorities frantically tried to secure the campus and sort out what happened, they initially provided conflicting accounts of casualties. Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin confirmed at an afternoon news conference that 10 people had been killed and seven injured, with the gunman killed in an exchange of fire with police. Hanlin said authorities would not identify the victims for at least a day, possibly two. The FBI later clarified that the 10 fatalities included the gunman.
Hanlin said authorities were not ready to release any information about a possible motive. The News-Review newspaper in Douglas County quoted a student as saying the gunman had asked people their religion before opening fire.
The rampage was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have produced national revulsion, even as they have left Republicans and Democrats divided over whether such violence should lead to stricter gun laws. Thursday’s shootings came three months after nine people were gunned down at a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C.
School shootings have figured prominently in this series of tragedies, including the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings and the deaths of 20 children in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.