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What We Know So Far About the Oregon Shooter

5 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

The Oregon shooter who opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday was armed with five pistols, a rifle and five additional magazines and wore protective body armor, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators also discovered four rifles, two pistols, and a shotgun at the shooter’s home.

Although Douglas County sheriff John Hanlin refused to say his name and “give him credit for this horrific act of cowardice,” the shooter was identified by multiple media outlets, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer. Mercer was reclusive and introverted, according to descriptions based on his online presence and neighbors at the apartment complex where he apparently lived.

At a press conference Friday, Hanlin and his team said that all the firearms were purchased legally, some by the shooter and others by a family member. Sheriff Hanlin said there were a total of ten fatalities, including the shooter.

Among Mercer’s weapons were a 9mm Glock pistol and a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, according to the report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He also had a .40-caliber pistol that was traced to a different person in Portland. Investigators suspect he may have been a student at the college because a receipt found at the crime scene shows he purchased textbooks on campus two days before the shooting, according to the AP.

Mercer was born in the U.K. before moving to the U.S. at a young age, Carmen Nesnick — whose mother married his father a few years ago — told CBS News Los Angeles. Although she had only met Mercer a few times and last spoke to him a year ago, Nesnick described her stepbrother as “caring and supportive.”

Police on Thursday night surrounded the apartment building in nearby Winchester — four miles from the college — that is believed to be Mercer’s place of residence after he moved there from Torrance, Cal.

“I just started noticing him the last 4-6 months, there’s a playground out behind the apartments, and we’re on the second story. I go outside to smoke and I watch for anyone,” Steven Fisher, a neighbor, told Reuters. “Around 5-5:30 in the evening I’d see him out there with a couple kids. He seemed skittish, always looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching,” Fisher said, adding that he had never spoken to Mercer.

Both Fisher and another neighbor said they recognized the young assailant from circulated photographs that appeared on a profile purportedly belonging to him on social network MySpace. The photos show a man with a shaved head and glasses looking into the camera while holding a long-barrel gun.

Several other photos on the profile depict masked gunmen and symbols of the Irish Republican Army, while another profile on dating website Spiritual Passions says he “Doesn’t Like Organized Religion” and is “shy at first, but warm up quickly.”

The username on the dating profile, IRONCROSS45, is also part of an email address — ironcross45@gmail.com — that has been traced back to Mercer at his Winchester address. There are suspicions that the username may be a reference to a Nazi military symbol, and multiple reports said someone with the same handle had purchased Nazi memorabilia online.

The email is also reportedly linked to the profile of one Lithium_Love on torrent-sharing website KickAssTorrents, where a linked blog post talks about Vester Flanagan — the man who gunned down two television journalists on camera in late August.

“On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are,” the post reads. “A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

The latest activity on the torrent account was a video uploaded on Tuesday, a BBC documentary about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 people — most of them children under the age of 10 — lost their lives.

Former neighbors from Torrance, where Mercer lived before moving to Oregon, described him as a reserved young man who was almost inseparable from his mother and wore the same outfit (a white t-shirt with green army pants and combat boots) every day.

“He always seemed anxious,” 51-year-old Rosario Lucumi, who remembers frequently riding the same bus as him, told the New York Times. “He always had earphones in, listening to music.”

Others in the neighborhood said Mercer’s mother, Laurel Harper, would go door-to-door complaining about a variety of nuisances like pet dogs, children playing loudly and cockroaches. She reportedly claimed they bothered her son, who was apparently dealing with “some mental issues.”

When Brian Clay, 18, once asked Mercer why he wore “military get-up” all the time, he says he didn’t get a straight answer.

“He kind of just didn’t want to talk about it” and quickly changed the subject, Clay told the Times. “He didn’t say anything about himself.”

Ian Mercer, the gunman’s father who reportedly divorced Harper in 2006 and now lives in Tarzana, Cal., told reporters outside his residence Thursday night there that he was “as shocked as anybody” at his son’s alleged crime.

“I can’t answer any questions right now. I don’t want to answer any questions right now,” he said. “Obviously, it’s been a devastating day, devastating for me and my family.”

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Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com