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Oregon college gunman committed suicide and had amassed 14 firearms, officials say

Umpqua Community College

A message of healing is displayed at a local business after a fatal shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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Christopher Harper-Mercer killed himself after he fatally shot nine people and wounded nine others in his attack at Umpqua Community College, among the deadliest mass school shootings in two decades, officials said Saturday.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said the medical examiner ruled that Harper-Mercer’s death was a suicide. Officials had earlier said the gunman died during an exchange of gunfire with responding officers. 

Authorities also recovered an additional weapon during the search of Harper-Mercer’s home, bringing to 14 the number of guns found, Hanlin said. Officials said six guns were found at the school and the rest at his home.

The announcement comes as investigators continue combing through a trove of information in an effort to understand the shooter’s background and determine his motive. 

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FULL COVERAGE: Oregon community college shooting

They are conducting hundreds of interviews with witnesses and those who knew Harper-Mercer, described by law enforcement sources as a hate-filled person who had long struggled with mental health issues.

In addition to firearms, authorities have seized his electronic devices and writings, Hanlin said.

Harper-Mercer opened fire Thursday morning in his English class while heavily armed and wearing a flak jacket, reportedly asking students whether they were Christian before he shot them.

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The most detailed reconstruction yet of the 10 deadly minutes at the school was released Saturday, beginning with the first call to 911 emergency operators at 10:38 a.m. Thursday.

Within five minutes, two Roseburg Police officers arrived along with an Oregon State Police trooper, the sheriff said.

By 10:46 a.m., “officer reports an exchange of shots with suspect,” according to the time line.

Two minutes later, at 10:48, came the report “suspect down.”

The sheriff said the quick police reaction probably saved lives.

“I want to express my most sincere appreciation to those most directly touched by this incident,” Hanlin said. He went on to praise “the two Roseburg police officers who responded and stopped the shooter from killing dozens of other people who were in that classroom and in the immediate vicinity.”

On Saturday, one mother spoke of how her daughter lived through the 10 violent minutes in the classroom.

Only 16 years old, Cheyeanne Fitzgerald had graduated from high school early and aspired to be a nurse. Thursday was her fourth day of class as a college student.

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The shooter asked Cheyeanne “what her religion was,” said Bonnie Schaan, her mother. When Cheyeanne did not respond, he shot her below the shoulder blade, the bullet puncturing her lung and lodging into her kidney.

When the gunman ordered students to get in the middle of the room, Cheyeanne couldn’t move. So she played dead — and managed to send out a text message, even posting it to Facebook.

“The [expletive] shot me in the back,” the message said.

“Her recovery is going to be long, but we’re going to get there,” said Schaan, adding that her daughter’s kidney had been removed and that she was in intensive care.

The attack has shocked Harper-Mercer’s family, which released a statement Saturday.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific events that unfolded on Thursday, October 1. Our thoughts, our hearts and our prayers go out to all of the families of those who died and were injured,” the family said in a statement released by authorities.

Ian Mercer, the gunman’s father who spoke before knowing a 14th weapon was found, questioned how his son was able to amass an arsenal that included handguns, a rifle and a shotgun.

“How on earth could he compile 13 guns? How can that happen, you know? They talk about gun laws; they talk about gun control. Every time something like this happens they talk about it and nothing happens,” he said in an interview with CNN from his Tarzana home. “If Chris had not been able to get hold of 13 guns, it would not have happened.”

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He had a good relationship with his son, who lived with his mother, Mercer said. He said he had not seen his son since he moved to Oregon with her in 2013.

As he has before, Hanlin on Saturday refused to name the gunman, arguing that to do so would glorify the violence and possibly lead others to act as copycats. He commended the victims’ families for persevering through their grief.

“This community will do quite well and pull together,” Mayor Larry Rich said Saturday. “For our community, this is a time to grieve.”

The dead range from an 18-year-old student to the 67-year-old teacher, all gathered for their Writing 115 class. Like in any community college, the group was a mix of people in different stages of life, but united in their desire to pick up new skills.

Families of the dead have asked for privacy, but offered statements about their loved ones.

Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59, formerly of Orange County, and her 18-year-old daughter were both at the school during the violence. The daughter was unhurt but the mother died in the classroom.

“She was a very energetic, very kind, kind soul,” her former husband, Eric, a vineyard manager, who remained close with the woman, wrote on his Facebook page. “Kim was an exceptional woman.”

The father of 19-year-old Lucero Alcaraz fought back tears and anger outside his Roseburg home as he talked about her.

“There is no sense in talking about it. It’s in vain,” Ezequiel Alcaraz said in Spanish to the Associated Press. “What’s the point in showing our pain?”

Lucero’s sister, Maria Leticia Alcaraz, posted to Facebook that her sister was missing, then broke the news that she was dead.

“Never in a million years would I have imagined going through something like this. She was my best friend and my sister,” she wrote. “I can’t begin to describe how I feel. I’m full of anger, pain, sadness, regret that I didn’t get the chance to see her or prevent this from happening.”

College life was just beginning for Jason Johnson, who had started his first week at the school, his mother told NBC News on Friday.

Tonja Johnson Engel said that her son had struggled with drug abuse, but decided to continue his education after completing a six-month rehab program with the Salvation Army in Portland.

“The other day, he looked at me and hugged me and said, ‘Mom, how long have you been waiting for one of your kids to go to college?’ And I said, ‘Oh, about 20 years,’” Engel said.

I can’t begin to describe how I feel. I’m full of anger, pain, sadness, regret that I didn’t get the chance to see her or prevent this from happening.
Maria Leticia Alcaraz, sister of shooting victim Lucero Alcaraz

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The family of Quinn Glen Cooper of Roseburg, 18, mourned the “funny, sweet, compassionate and such a wonderful loving person.”

“He always stood up for people,” the statement notes. Cooper was going to take his brown belt test next week, and loved dancing and voice acting.

“Our lives are shattered beyond repair,” his family said.

Law enforcement officials visibly struggled with their words as they read the statements.

Lucas Eibel of Roseburg, 18, “was as an amazing soccer player,” his family wrote, noting his academic achievements, including graduating Roseburg High School with high academic marks, receiving a Ford Family Foundation scholarship, and receiving an Umpqua Community College scholars award.

The teacher of the class was Lawrence Levine of Glide, 67. He was also a member of Steamboaters, a fly fishing and conservation group. Dale Greenley, a fellow member of the group, told reporters that Levine was an avid fisherman who used to be a guide on the north Umpqua River.

“He was kind of quiet and laid back, he didn’t say much,” Greenley said. “But he was a good writer.”

Sarena Dawn Moore of Myrtle Creek, 44, was a member of Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had a post on its Facebook page mourning her death.

In a written statement read by officials, the family of Treven Taylor Anspach of Sutherlin, 20, said he was “one of the most positive young men, always looking for the best in life.”

NEWSLETTER: Get the day’s top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

Rebecka Ann Carnes of Myrtle Creek, 18, was the great-granddaughter of the first cousin of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, (D-Oregon). The senator was among a group of top officials who called on the community to pull together. He described the pain of learning that the shooting had touched so close to home. “Rebecka’s beautiful spirit will be enormously missed,” he stated.

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