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Oregon college gunman opened fire with multiple weapons

Published 02/10/2015

A woman is comforted after a shooting at Umpqua Community College (AP)
A woman is comforted after a shooting at Umpqua Community College (AP)
Friends and family wait for students at the local fairgrounds after the deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College (AP)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the shooting, in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House (AP)

Armed with multiple guns, a man walked into a morning writing class at a community college in the rural Oregon town of Roseburg and opened fire, hitting some students with multiple gunshots.

One witness said the attacker demanded to know students' religion before shooting them.

Students in a classroom next door heard several shots, one right after the next, and their teacher told them to leave.

"We began to run," student Hannah Miles said. "A lot of my classmates were going every which way. We started to run to the centre of campus. And I turned around, and I saw students pouring out of the building."

At least nine people were killed and seven others wounded on Thursday, the fourth day of classes at Umpqua Community College in the former timber town 180 miles south of Portland.

The worst mass shooting in recent Oregon history was raising questions about security at the college with about 3,000 students.

"I suspect this is going to start a discussion across the country about how community colleges prepare themselves for events like this," former college president Joe Olson said.

The killer was identified as Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, according to a government official. Mercer died after a shootout with police, who were not saying whether they knew of any motive.

Federal investigators recovered six weapons at the college and seven at Mercer's nearby apartment. All of the weapons were purchased legally, seven of them by the shooter or his family members in the last three years, Celinez Nunez, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assistant special agent in charge, said at a news conference.

Investigators also found a flak jacket next to a rifle at the school, which contained steel plates, she said.

Mercer is not believed to have a criminal history. Investigators believe he may have been a student at the college because a receipt found at the scene showed he purchased textbooks from the campus bookstore two days before the shooting, the ATF said.

The Army said Harper-Mercer flunked out of basic training with the US Army in 2008 in South Carolina.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ben Garrett said Harper-Mercer was in the Army for a little over a month at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, but was discharged for failing to meet the minimum standards.

Garrett did not say which standards Harper-Mercer failed to meet. Generally, the Army requires recruits to pass physical fitness tests and to be generally in good physical and mental health. Recruits must also pass a multiple-choice test covering science, maths, reading comprehension and other topics.

He lived in an apartment complex in nearby Winchester. A neighbour, Bronte Harte, said Harper-Mercer "seemed really unfriendly" and would "sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light".

Harte said a woman she believed to be Harper-Mercer's mother also lived upstairs and was "crying her eyes out" now.

Social profiles linked to him suggested he was fascinated by the IRA, frustrated by traditional organised religion and tracked other mass shootings.

There didn't seem to be many recent connections on the social media sites linked to Harper-Mercer, with his MySpace page just showing two friends.

In addition to the MySpace page, Mercer appeared to have at least one online dating profile, a torrents streaming account and a blog.

On a torrents streaming site and blog that appeared to belong to Harper-Mercer, posts referenced multiple shootings and downloads included several horror films and a documentary on a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A blog post urged readers to watch the online footage of Vester Flanagan shooting two former colleagues on live TV in Virginia, while another lamented materialism as preventing spiritual development.

A MySpace page that appeared to belong to him included several photos and graphics of the IRA as well as a picture of Harper-Mercer holding a rifle.

He previously lived in the Los Angeles-area suburb of Torrance with his mother. Neighbours there recalled him as uncommunicative.

His father, Ian Mercer, said on Thursday that it's been a "devastating day" for him and his family, and he has been talking to police and the FBI about the shooting. He spoke to KABC-TV and several other media outlets gathered outside his house in Tarzana, California.

Step-sister Carmen Nesnick said the shooting didn't make sense. "All he ever did was put everyone before himself, he wanted everyone to be happy," she told KCBS-TV.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said Thursday that he was not going to say the shooter's name because that's what he would have wanted.

"I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act," said a visibly angry Hanlin.

Hundreds went to a candlelight vigil Thursday night, with many raising candles as the hymn Amazing Grace was played.

Sam Sherman, a former student, said the school helped broaden his opportunities.

"That's all I could think about today. There's 10, nine kids who won't get those doors opened," he said.

Roseburg is in Douglas County, a politically conservative region west of the Cascade Range where people like to hunt and fish. But it's no stranger to school gun violence. A freshman at the local high school shot and wounded a fellow student in 2006.

After Thursday's shooting, anguished parents and other relatives rushed to surviving students.

Jessica Chandler was desperately seeking information about her 18-year-old daughter, Rebecka Carnes.

"I don't know where she is. I don't know if she's wounded," Chandler said.

Carnes' best friend told Chandler that her daughter had been flown by helicopter to a hospital.

Students described utter fear and panic after hearing the shots.

Sarah Cobb, 17, was in a next-door classroom. She heard a shot. A teacher said they needed to get out, and the class ran out the door as she heard two more shots.

"I was freaking out. I didn't know what to think, what to do," she said.

Before the Roseburg shooting, a posting on the message-board site 4chan included a photo of a crudely drawn frog used regularly in internet memes with a gun and warned other users not to go to school Thursday in the Northwest.

The messages that followed spoke of mass shootings, with some egging on and even offering tips to the original poster. It was unclear if the messages were tied to the shooting because of the largely anonymous nature of the site.

Investigators went door to door in the areas near the college and the shooter's apartment seeking clues, Hanlin said.

The sheriff has been vocal in opposing state and federal gun-control legislation. In 2013, Hanlin sent a letter to vice president Joe Biden after the shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school, declaring that he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun-control restrictions "offending the constitutional rights of my citizens"'

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