Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil in Roseburg, Ore., late Thursday following a mass shooting at a community colleague that claimed at least 10 lives, including the gunman, and left seven others wounded.
“We don’t know why this happened, we only know that we were called together as a community to banish fear and share love,” Oregon Governor Brown told those congregated at Roseburg’s Stewart Park. “In our sorrow, we will remember and honor those lost here today, and this way they will live forever in our hearts.”
The gunman, identified by local officials as Chris Harper Mercer, 26, opened fire after walking into the city’s Umpqua Community College, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
The office said it received a 911 call about the shooting at 10:38 a.m. local time. Officers located the gunman in a building and exchanged gunfire with him, according to Sheriff John Hanlin, and the shooter was killed.
“It’s been a terrible day,” Hanlin said.
Witnesses say the shooter was wearing body amour, reports CNN, while four guns, including three pistols and one long gun, as well as a large amount of ammunition, were recovered from the scene.
The chaos of the shooting brought conflicting reports of the casualties. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum previously said there were 13 people killed and 20 people injured.
Hanlin said Thursday night that his office would likely not release the identity of the shooter and the victims for at least another 24 to 48 hours.
Student Kortney Moore, 18, said the gunman shot her teacher in the head, then asked others in the classroom about their religion before shooting again, according to the News-Review, a local newspaper.
The father of another student, Anastasia Boylan, relayed his daughter’s eyewitness account of the shooting to CNN based on her description before going into spinal surgery.
After he shot the teacher, the gunman reportedly asked students to stand up if they were Christian.
“Good, because you’re Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.” he then said before killing them, according to Boylan’s father Stacy.
Roseburg is a small community in the southern part of Oregon, about 180 miles south of Portland.
Nearby Mercy Medical Center said on Twitter that it had received a total of 10 patients from the shooting. Four would remain there overnight, the hospital said, and all were likely to survive.
Students and staff described a tense situation as soon as gunshots rang out across the campus.
“We locked our door, and I went out to lock up the restrooms and could hear four shots from the front of campus,” UCC Foundation Executive Director Dennis O’Neil told the News-Review.
Tina Jensen, a student who said she started school at UCC on Tuesday and was standing next to the building where the gunman opened fire, said she was “shocked” at the incident.
“There was about five of us standing right next to that building and it just went absolutely crazy,” she told CNN, adding that they mistook the first gunshot for the sound of a heavy textbook falling on the concrete floor. “Everybody started running and we were still a bit confused, and then it just became chaos,” before Jensen jumped into a stranger’s car who promptly drove her off the campus.
“We didn’t know what else to do,” she said. “We were just trying to get out of the way.”
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said that there was “no more threat” from the shooting as of early Thursday afternoon, adding that students were being bussed to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where counselors were waiting.
Mercer reportedly lived in an apartment complex in nearby Winchester, which was locked down and being investigated by law enforcement authorities late Thursday.
The alleged assailant used to “sit by himself in the dark balcony with this little light,” a neighbor named Bronte Hart told local television station KATU. Hart also said a woman living in the building who she assumed to be Mercer’s mother was “crying her eyes out” on Thursday, according to KATU.
Federal investigators are reportedly looking into a conversation posted on anonymous message board 4chan for links to the shooting. While it’s unclear if it’s linked to the shooting, a 4chan user posted late Wednesday night warning people not to go to school if they are in the Northwest.
Umpqua Community College has about 3,000 students. It had a single unarmed security officer on duty at the time, according to the Associated Press. The college tweeted that it would remain closed until Monday and that all weekend activities would be cancelled.
“We are holding the community of Douglas County in our hearts today” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown at a press conference.
President Barack Obama called the Roseburg a community of “really good people” and said the victims and his families were in his thoughts and prayers in a speech at the White House. With visible anger, he called once again for gun reforms, and said that mass shootings have become commonplace in America.
“Somehow this has become routine,” he said. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.”
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice insisted that people of the community focus on supporting and remembering the victims and their families rather than the perpetrator, echoing the county sheriff’s refusal to give the latter any importance.
“This is not about the shooter,” Boice told the crowd. “I challenge you all never to utter his name.”
Hanlin, the local sheriff, has been an active opponent of gun-control laws, according to the AP, and once sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden after the Newtown, Conn. shootings urging him against new regulations.