Officials in Roseburg, Oregon, released the names Friday of the nine people killed by a rampaging gunman at a rural community college as the debate over gun control laws in the US heated up in the wake of the massacre.
In statements read aloud by law enforcement officials, victims’ families began to paint a picture of the people they had lost, a cross-section of the tight-knit rural community. Their ages ranged from 18 to 67. Four were woman and five were men.
One of the victims, Jason Dale Johnson, 33, was a devout Christian “proud” of enrolling in school, his family said. Another, Lucas Eibel, 18, was a passionate volunteer at a wildlife care centre, and 20-year-old Treven Taylor Anspach’s parents called him “a perfect son.”
“I don’t know how we’re going to move forward with our lives without Quinn,” said the family of Quinn Glen Cooper, 18. “Our lives are shattered beyond repair.”
The other victims are Lucero Alcarez, 19, Rebecka Anne Carnes, 18, Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59, Sarena Dawn Moore, 44, and teacher Lawrence Levine, 67.
Emergency calls Thursday morning summoned law enforcement to the rural, hilltop community campus, where a 26-year-old man was going classroom to classroom shooting people in the college’s science building.
As panicked students ran for their lives or cowered behind classroom doors, authorities killed the gunman in a firefight.
Federal investigators recovered 13 weapons, ammunition and a flak jacket from the crime scene and the shooter’s home, officials said Friday.
But a day after the attack, which also left nine people in hospital, official accounts were short on specifics amid what Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin called “a very active investigation.”
Instead, details emerged through witness accounts.
One survivor told news media the killer asked victims if they were Christian before shooting them.
“Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,” the shooter said, US broadcaster CNN cited 18-year-old Anastasia Boylan as saying. Boylan was hit in the back by a bullet during the attack.
The gunman is also believed to have told another victim that he had been waiting years to carry out the shootings at the college in the town of Roseburg.
The motivation behind the attack remained unclear.
Law enforcement sources cited by the Los Angeles Times said writings left behind by the shooter showed white supremacist leanings and a distaste for organized religion.
Hanlin said authorities did not know how the gunman was connected to the college.
Federal officials identified the shooter as Chris Harper Mercer, 26. Hanlin said he would “never” name the gunman and urged the media not to give him publicity.
“Those media and community members who publicize his name will only glorify his horrific actions. And eventually this will only serve to inspire future shooters,” Hanlin said.
The shooting was the 45th time a gun was fired in a US school since the beginning of 2015, according to Everytown, an organization which campaigns for tighter gun controls.
A day after the attack, political lines were being drawn as starkly as they have ever been in the nation’s ongoing debate over gun control.
President Barack Obama said at a news conference that he would actively politicize the issue, railing against powerful gun lobbying groups and their political allies who have blocked his attempts to pass gun control laws despite public support.
“Until we change that political dynamic, we won’t make a dent,” he said.
On the other side of the debate, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush told an audience in South Carolina he didn’t think the answer to mass shootings was to pass more laws.
“Stuff happens. There’s always a crisis,” he said in response to a question about the Oregon massacre and gun laws, according to news reports. “The impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
Americans overwhelmingly support requiring background checks for gun purchases, according to an opinion poll this month by Quinnipiac University.
But respondents in the same poll were starkly split along party lines over stricter gun laws in general – with 76 per cent of Democrats supporting gun restrictions, and 73 per cent of Republicans opposing them.