‘Don’t say his name’: Oregon community wants to make shooter anonymous
Keith Weikum, a set builder and special effects operator for theater productions at Umpqua Community College, already had a skeptical expression when he opened his front door.
The reporter standing outside asked him whether he knew a particular student who had signed up to be a production assistant on a play with Weikum.
Weikum scowled. He did know that student. Not well. But he had seen the student’s face splashed all over the TV news. Weikum shook his head as he spoke slowly and directly.
“I don’t know that name. I don’t use that name,” said Weikum, who had a specific suggestion instead. “Say: ‘the shooter.’”
To the bewildered and angered residents of Roseburg, the shooter who gunned down nine people at the community college on Thursday is a man with no name. The gunman, a newcomer to Oregon, forged an almost totally anonymous life in a town, population 21,968, where it can be hard to keep secrets.
“For us, he was another guy who worked on a set,” said Weikum’s wife, Wendy Weikum, a local actress and a college trustee, who — following a community campaign to avoid focusing on the shooter — challenged a reporter to write a story that didn’t mention the gunman’s name.
So, here’s that story: The man’s neighbors at his tan apartment building rarely saw him, and some had to be shown his photo for identification. Downstairs neighbor Eli Loomas just remembered the shooter as a guy with baggy pants who walked goofy.
Few students knew the gunman, and those who did said he was low-key. For a survivor who had been in the classroom next door to where the man opened fire, junior Kendra Godon, it wasn’t just that she had never seen the shooter before: She couldn’t even remember whether she had seen him before.
Jane Ortiz, who met the gunman when he attended the Switzer Learning Center in Torrance, recalled him as an awkward boy who was slow to respond when someone said hello. The center teaches students with special needs, learning disabilities and emotional issues.
“He really didn’t have a personality that was memorable,” she said.
Not much is known about what the shooter had been doing in Oregon since he moved from the Los Angeles area with his mother in 2013, and that’s fine with many Roseburg residents. They don’t know him, and they don’t want to know him.
“Let’s heal and move forward, and not focus on this guy,” said Keith Weikum.
In recent years, several communities and officials around the country have called for similar restraint on using mass shooters’ names in public.
The argument holds that focusing on the gunmen takes attention from the victims and could encourage other people to commit massacres in hopes of elevating their lives out of anonymity.
After a gunman killed two Virginia journalists on live television in August, a person who used the email associated with the Oregon attacker wrote in an online post: “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.
“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.”
The Oregon gunman apparently got his wish after the worst school shooting in the state’s history.
The Roseburg News-Review published his name and a 1-inch photo of his face on Friday’s front page, below a large photo of the community at a vigil and the headline “UNITED IN GRIEF.”
News outlets across the nation also featured the gunman. But the News-Review met a furious backlash on the newspaper’s Facebook page.
“Way to slap your community in the face!” wrote a Facebook user, Val Kammeyer. “Our own local newspaper can’t even back us up and respect our wishes!”
Another user, Josh McDonald, added, “Since the news review decided to post the pic and the name we should refrain from buying their paper.” His comment got 33 “likes.”
The next day, the News-Review resumed its coverage, but the shooter’s name appeared nowhere in the paper. The front page featured the photos of the nine victims and their names in large font, as well as brief stories about their lives.
Roseburg’s anonymity campaign — appearing in hashtags like #dontsayhisname — has been driven in part by Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, who told reporters, “You will never hear me say his name.”
That drew a rebuke from the editorial board for the state’s largest newspaper, the Portland-based Oregonian, which pointed out that public identification served an essential purpose in criminal investigations, including Hanlin’s.
“Hanlin has been encouraging anyone who might have tips relating to the shootings to call 1-800-CALL-FBI,” the editorial board wrote. But as a practical matter, the paper wrote, how can they pass along tips about the gunman “if they never know that he was the shooter?”
That stand on the shooter’s name aside, the Oregonian’s story editors have felt the public pressure. The paper said Saturday it would limit use of the gunman’s name and only use it “where it was needed for context.”
As it happened, according to the News-Review’s publisher, Jeff Ackerman, his paper’s omission of the shooter’s name was unintentional. It will use the name in the future, he said.
“Not sure how we follow the story without a name,” Ackerman wrote in an email. “Evil has a name and a face. Hitler, Pol Pot, Charles Manson, etc. What do we call him when researching his 13 weapons, mental health issues, etc? ‘Shooter Number Two’?”
Umpqua Community College student Dylan Knapp knew and had gone to middle school and high school with slain students Lucero Alcaraz and Lucas Eibel, and had played basketball against another victim, Treven Taylor Anspach.
When the News-Review printed the shooter’s picture on the front page, Knapp tweeted a photo of the newspaper with the gunman’s name and picture torn out. “Don’t [expletive] say his name,” Knapp wrote, getting retweeted by several students.
“I don’t really want to know anything about him at all,” Knapp said in a private message to The Times. “I know that all that stuff is gonna come out and that people will have their theories on why he did it, but I myself have no desire to know anything about him. I want to know more about the victims.”
But Knapp also acknowledged that there was a gap between the public campaign against naming the gunman and the private conversations rippling through town, in cafes and among students, away from the out-of-town reporters and the cameras.
Still, Knapp said, he knew plenty of students who said they didn’t know the shooter, and “they didn’t want to know him, either.”
Times staff writer Ruben Vives in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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