Crime & Justice

Oregon shooting updates: Details emerge on victims; gunman once lived in Torrance

 A sign sits along the road to Umpqua Community College on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon.  Yesterday 10 people were killed and another seven were wounded on the campus when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on a shooting rampage.
A sign sits along the road to Umpqua Community College on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon. Yesterday 10 people were killed and another seven were wounded on the campus when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on a shooting rampage.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
 A sign sits along the road to Umpqua Community College on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon.  Yesterday 10 people were killed and another seven were wounded on the campus when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on a shooting rampage.
Hundreds of people gather for a vigil in Roseburg, Oregon on October 1, 2015, for ten people killed and seven others wounded in a shooting at a community college in the western US state of Oregon. The 26-year-old gunman, identified by US media as Chris Harper Mercer, was killed following a shootout with police. A visibly angry President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for gun control in the wake of the shooting, blasting Congress for its failure to act in the face of "routine" mass killings.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
 A sign sits along the road to Umpqua Community College on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon.  Yesterday 10 people were killed and another seven were wounded on the campus when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on a shooting rampage.
Denizens of Roseburg gather at a candlelight vigil for the victims of a shooting October 1, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon. According to reports, 10 were killed and 20 injured when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
Michael Lloyd/Getty Images
 A sign sits along the road to Umpqua Community College on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon.  Yesterday 10 people were killed and another seven were wounded on the campus when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on a shooting rampage.
A sign commemorating the shootings in Roseburg, Oregon hand in the stands during the game between the Seattle Reign FC and the FC Kansas City at Providence Park on October 1, 2015 in Portland, Oregon.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
 A sign sits along the road to Umpqua Community College on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon.  Yesterday 10 people were killed and another seven were wounded on the campus when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on a shooting rampage.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin speaks at a press conference Oct. 1, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon. Hanlin confirmed that 10 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College.
Michael Lloyd/Getty Images

Several family members of the nine victims who were killed in the shooting at an Oregon community college took to Facebook to express their grief Friday. The gunman was identified late Thursday by family members in Torrance who spoke with NBC4. Meanwhile, an Army veteran who was shot seven times is being praised as a hero for trying to prevent the gunman from reaching his classmates.

We'll be following this story throughout the day. Check back for updates. 


Updated 3:26 p.m.: Names, identities of victims released

The nine people killed after a gunman opened fire on an Oregon community college campus Thursday took different paths to the small rural college, ranging from teens starting college for the first time to adults who were seeking a second career. One was an assistant professor of English at the college.

The worst mass shooting in Oregon history also injured several others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Some family members took to social media early after news of the shooting broke, expressing concern that they hadn't yet heard from relatives. Many used that same platform to express their heartbreak once their worst fears were confirmed.

Authorities released the identities of the victims Friday:

We'll update this post as we learn more about those who were killed Thursday. 

— Associated Press

Updated 2:09 p.m.: Gun control prospects in GOP-run Congress remain remote (Q&A)

Another mass shooting has — at least temporarily — rekindled the gun control debate. On Thursday, President Barack Obama delivered an emotional appeal to the public to do their part by electing lawmakers based specifically on their positions on gun control.

Adam Winkler, who teaches constitutional policy at UCLA, seemed to underscore that sentiment on Friday.

"If gun control advocates want to win more gun control laws, they need to vote on the basis of gun control more often. The gun rights people understand that, and they've been voting on the basis of the NRA's recommendations for many, many years and that's why they're so powerful," Winkler said, speaking on KPCC's Take Two.

But opponents of stricter gun control laws have consistently maintained that new laws will do nothing to avert tragedies like Newtown, the mass killings at a Colorado theater, and now the shootings at an Oregon community college.

"If you actually look at this logically, common sense will tell you that the only folks who obey the gun control laws are the ones you don't have to worry about," said Steve Dulan with the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners and an adjunct professor at the Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University.

"Gun control advocates have blood on their hands for disarming people who might otherwise have lived. Your ID is not going to save your life. Your car registration isn't going to save your life. Guns do save innocent lives," Dulan said on KPCC's AirTalk.

In a now-familiar pattern following a mass shooting and the verbal sparring over gun control, there is no sign that the chances for new firearms restrictions emerging soon from Congress are anything but remote, as the Associated Press reports. Here's the AP's look at why that remains true, even after Thursday's shootings at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, that left at least nine victims dead:

Q: Are there any signs that congressional resistance to tightening gun laws is receding?

A: No. Most Democrats favor making it harder for people to purchase firearms while most Republicans oppose that idea. With the GOP running both the House and Senate since January, leaders have shown no willingness to even hold votes on curbing guns. And the National Rifle Association remains a potent force opposing restrictions.

Q: What's the latest measurement of gun sentiment in Congress?

A: In December 2012, a shooter killed 20 1st-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. With the stunning massacre still fresh and Democrats controlling the Senate, lawmakers voted the following April on a bipartisan proposal to require background checks of all firearms purchasers at gun shows and on the Internet.

It failed.

Democrats fell five votes short of the 60 needed to end a GOP procedural blockade that killed the measure. Four Republicans supported the restrictions while four Democrats opposed them.

Q: Have gun control supporters gotten closer to having enough votes to prevail?

A: They've lost strength, plus they now face a Senate controlled by the GOP.

As a result of the 2014 elections and retirements, six Democrats who backed that 2013 measure are no longer in the Senate and have been replaced by Republicans likely to vote "no." That probably leaves supporters 11 votes shy of being able to advance the legislation.

And there are no signs that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has any desire to allow votes on curbing guns.

Q: What about the House?

A: That GOP-run chamber didn't even have votes on major gun restrictions after Newtown.

This year, it is controlled by Republicans with their largest margin in decades. And with conservatives having just pressured House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to unexpectedly retire, the new leadership team will have little incentive to consider allowing votes on gun curbs.

Even so, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and nearly 80 other Democrats wrote Boehner Friday saying the House should pass "common sense gun laws."

Q: What about trying again on the background check bill that failed in the Senate?

A: Its two sponsors, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., say they still back the idea. But they haven't reintroduced it this year, saying they lack the votes to prevail. "It's math," says Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott.

Q: Have any gun bills been introduced this year?

A: Scores, including by Democrats seeking to tighten gun curbs and Republicans looking to ease them. Nothing major has gone anywhere.

One bill by No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas would provide extra federal funds to states sending most of their records on people with serious mental problems to the federally run background check system. It's drawn the wrath of gun-control advocates because it would also make it easier for some people who have had mental problems to get firearms.

Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have introduced legislation buttressing government efforts to help the mentally ill. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., has proposed a similar bill. Neither directly addresses guns.

— KPCC staff with Alan Fram/Associated Press

Update 1:38 p.m. Jeb Bush's response to Oregon shooting draws criticism

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush spoke Friday about Thursday's shooting.

"We're in a difficult time in our country, and I don't think more government is necessarily the answer to this," Bush said. "It's very sad to see. But I resist the notion— and I had this challenge as governor. Look, stuff happens, there's always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something, and it's necessarily the right thing to do."

Jeb Bush's "Stuff happens" comment

President Obama was asked about Bush's comments during a Friday press conference, and brushed aside the comment, saying, "I don't even think I have to react to that one."

Candidate Donald Trump made a similar comment to Bush's Friday morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," talking about how there are millions of "sick people" around the world.

"You’re going to have these things happen and it’s a horrible thing to behold, horrible," Trump said. "It’s not politically correct to say, but you’re going to have difficulty and that will be for the next million years, there’s going to be difficulty, and people are going to slip through the cracks."

Mike Roe/KPCC

Update 12 p.m. Chris Harper Mercer graduated from a Torrance school

Alleged community college shooter Chris Harper Mercer graduated in 2009 from the Switzer Learning Center in Torrance.

“It’s a tragic day,” said Switzer Learning Center Principal Len Hernandez. Hernandez said the school sends condolences to the victims’ families. Beyond that, he would not answer questions about Chris Harper Mercer or his time at the school.

According to a graduation list published in the Daily Breeze, the alleged shooter and four other students graduated from the Switzer Learning Center in 2009. The school’s website describes the learning center as a nonprofit special education school serving students in grades 3 and up. Students who attend can have “moderate to severe learning disabilities, emotional issues, attention problems, and behavioral disorders,” the website states.

Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

Update 11:22 a.m. Man who helped stop Paris terrorist attack attended Umpqua Community College

Alek Skarlatos made news as an American who helped stop a terrorist attack on a Paris train, and it turns out he had also been enrolled at Umpqua Community College before being deployed in 2014 to Afghanistan, according to a post on his Instagram page. He'd been set to return to classes and had already signed up, but was in Los Angeles appearing on "Dancing With the Stars" thanks to his notoriety from what he did in Paris.

"If I didn't get called for the dancing show, I would have been on campus," Skarlatos told "Good Morning America."

Skarlatos, an Army National Guard specialist, wrote about the shooting on Instagram.

"While I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time in August aboard a train bound for Paris, I only wish that the same could be said for today. I wish that I could have been there today to assist," Skarlatos wrote.

Skarlatos told "Good Morning America" that he found out about the shooting in the middle of rehearsal in a text from a friend, then confirmed online that it was true. He said that he hid from the cameras so they couldn't see him crying, then he booked a flight back within about an hour.

He's lived in Roseburg for the last six years, according to ABC7. He told "Good Morning America" that all of the friends and family he checked in with after the shooting are safe, but "my heart really goes out to the people who can't say the same."

KPCC staff

Updated 10:55 a.m.: Army veteran praised as a hero in Oregon college shooting

Chris Mintz was shot multiple times by a gunman at an Oregon community college Thursday, and now he's being called a hero, after it emerged that Mintz ran at the attacker and tried to block the door to a classroom and protect his classmates. Mintz is now recovering from surgery.

"I just hope that everyone else is OK," Mintz, a 30-year-old father and Army veteran, told ABC News Friday morning. "I'm just worried about everyone else."

An Army veteran who's originally from North Carolina, Mintz "ran to the library and pulled all the alarms," survivor Hannah Miles, 19, tells ABC. "He was telling people to run... he actually ran back towards the building where the shooting was. And he ran back into the building."

On Thursday, Mintz was able to speak to his family before going into the operating room, according to Fox 8 TV in North Carolina. His aunt, Wanda Mintz, relayed how was hurt:

"Tries to block the door to keep the gunman from coming in, gets shot three times. Hits the floor. Looks up at the gunman and says, 'It's my son's birthday today.' Gets shot two more times."

Mintz suffered two broken legs in the attack at Umpqua Community College, his family says.

Wanda Mintz says of her nephew, a former football player and wrestler, "I really think that if he wasn't such a strong, young guy, he may have died."

Mintz's cousin, Ariana Earnhardt, says, "His vital signs are okay. He's going to have to learn to walk again but he walked away with his life and that's more than so many other people did."

Another cousin, Derek Bourgeois, set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for Mintz's medical costs. In just two hours, donors gave more than double the requested amount of $10,000.

"During the shooting both of his legs were broken and he is going to have to go through a ton of physical therapy," Bourgeois wrote. "While Chris is not the type of person to ask for it, he is going to need all of the help he can get while he recovers!"

Chris Mintz tweet

The Army veteran's story is attracting wide attention — and Mintz has quickly become a hot topic on social media, where many people are saying that it's his name, not the gunman's, that should be remembered from the attack that left nine victims dead. Local officials are refusing to speak the attacker's name in public.

Mintz was one of seven people who were injured in the attack. Their ages range from 18 to 34.

Today, a friend posted an update to Mintz's Facebook profile, saying, "Chris asked me to thank everyone for their support, he is grateful and keeping our community and all victims in his thoughts."

— Bill Chappell/NPR

Updated 10:04 a.m.: Shooter had 3 pistols, rifle, 5 extra magazines

A federal agency says the gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon community college had body armor and was armed with three pistols, a rifle and five additional magazines.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provided the information late Thursday in an incident report obtained by The Associated Press. The guns included a 9mm Glock pistol and .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, both traced to the suspect.

He also had a .40-caliber Taurus pistol traced to someone in Portland and a .556-caliber Del-Ton.

The shooting Thursday at Umpqua Community College also wounded seven. The gunman died after a shootout with police.

He isn't believed to have a criminal history. Investigators believe he may have been a student there because a receipt found at the scene showed he purchased textbooks from the campus bookstore two days before the shooting.

— Associated Press

6:36 a.m.: Details emerge of gunman, who once lived in Torrance

Armed with multiple guns, 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer walked into a morning writing class at the community college in this rural Oregon town and opened fire, hitting some students with multiple gunshots. A witness said a teacher was struck in the head.

At least nine people were killed by the gunman and seven others were wounded. One witness said the attacker demanded to know students' religion before shooting them on Thursday, the fourth day of class at Umpqua Community College.

Students in a classroom next door heard several shots, one right after the next, and their teacher told them to leave. Student Hannah Miles said: "We began to run. A lot of my classmates were going every which way. We started to run to center of campus. And I turned around, and I saw students pouring out of the building."

The worst mass shooting in recent Oregon history was raising questions about security at the Umpqua Community College.

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

The killer was identified as Chris Harper Mercer by family members in Torrance who spoke with NBC4. The gunman died following a shootout with police.

Police were not saying whether they knew of any motive.

The shooting on the campus in this former timber town 180 miles south of Portland shattered the first week of classes at the community college with about 3,000 students.

Mercer lived in a nearby apartment complex, which was cordoned off with yellow tape Thursday night.

A neighbor, Bronte Harte, told The Associated Press that 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 Mercer's mother also lived upstairs and was "crying her eyes out" Thursday.

In the Los Angeles-area suburb of Torrance where Mercer lived for a short time several years ago, neighbors recalled him as uncommunicative.

Ian Mercer, Chris Harper Mercer's father, spoke to KABC-TV and several other media outlets gathered outside his house in Tarzana, California, late Thursday night.

He said it's been a "devastating day" for him and his family and he has been talking to police and the FBI about the shooting.

Step-sister Carmen Nesnick told KCBS-TV the shooting didn't make sense.

"All he ever did was put everyone before himself, he wanted everyone to be happy," she said.

The county sheriff said at a news conference 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 John Hanlin.

Roseburg is in Douglas County, a politically conservative region west of the Cascade Range where people like to hunt and fish and pursue other outdoor activities.

But it's no stranger to school gun violence. A freshman at the local high school shot and wounded a fellow student in 2006.

On Thursday, 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 on 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.

Hanlin said authorities were still informing relatives of the dead.

"It's been a terrible day," a grim-faced Hanlin said. "Certainly this is a huge shock to our community."

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."

Hundreds went to a candlelight vigil 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, 9 kids who won't get those doors opened," he said.

— Associated Press reporters Jeff Barnard and Gosia Wozniacka. AP writers Steven Dubois and Jonathan J. Cooper in Portland, Oregon; Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California; Michael R. Blood in Torrance, California; Gene Johnson and Donna Blankinship in Seattle; and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report. Brian Melley contributed writing from Los Angeles.