A witness has said the gunman in a deadly shooting spree on a college campus in the Pacific coast state of Oregon that left 10 people dead asked victims if they were Christian before shooting them, news reports said Friday.
“Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,” 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer said, US broadcaster CNN cited 18-year-old Anastasia Boylan as saying. Boylan was hit in the back by a bullet during the attack.
Mercer is also believed to have told another victim of Thursday’s rampage that he had been waiting years to carry out the shootings at Umpqua Community College in the small community of Roseburg.
Oregon police confirmed that 10 people were shot dead and seven others injured in the attack, which shook the nation all the way up to the White House, where President Barack Obama railed against politicians who have blocked his attempts to introduce gun controls.
“We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” Obama said, calling again for stricter controls on firearms to prevent further mass shootings, but he faces an uphill battle against the powerful pro-gun lobby.
Douglas County Fire Marshal Ray Shoufler told broadcaster CNN that the shooter had apparently opened fire inside a classroom in a science building on the isolated, hilltop campus. News reports said that dead and wounded were found in multiple classrooms.
Shoufler said the attacker, who acted alone, was “neutralized” within minutes of the first emergency call. Three pistols and a rifle were secured at the scene.
Initial reports spoke of as many as 13 victims and 20 injured, as stated by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, before Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin confirmed that 10 people had died and seven were injured.
With 3,000 registered full-time students, Umpqua Community College is the county’s only college-level educational institution, Hanlin said. The timber-logging region is a “peaceful community,” Hanlin said.
“This is a huge shock to the entire community, to have this level of crime,” he said.
Roseburg, population 22,000, is 287 kilometres or a three-hour drive south of the state capital Portland, in rural Douglas County.
Hanlin had initially refused to name the gunman and urged the media not to give him publicity. “Let me be very clear: I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” Hanlin said.
The college remained closed until Monday, with all weekend activities cancelled. Bomb disposal experts were still combing cars parked on the campus hours after the attack.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on government buildings on Friday.
The umbrella American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) said in a statement in reaction to the attack that “[w]hile campus safety is of the utmost priority, due to their open nature, college and university campuses are susceptible to these types of events.”
The organization Everytown, which campaigns for tighter gun controls, described Thursday’s events as “tragic” and opened an online book of condolence.
The shooting was the 45th time a gun was fired in a US school since the beginning of 2015, according to Everytown.
Young men with guns massacred 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, 32 people at Virginia Tech in Virgina in 2007, and 26 people including 20 small children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.