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World & Nation

Online and off, a mystifying portrait of the Oregon college gunman emerges

In the real world, Chris Harper-Mercer cut the figure of a quiet young man who kept people at bay with his earbuds and struggled to speak when neighbors asked him how he was doing. He flunked out of the Army in less than five weeks, had few if any friends and still lived with his mom at age 26.

On several websites that appeared to be linked to Harper-Mercer, he put up a more robust front. A Myspace.com page included pictures of him with a rifle and photos of Irish Republican Army fighters with assault weapons and balaclavas, and the caption: “Looking cool defending their country.” On a dating website, he wrote that he weightlifted and enjoyed “killing zombies.”

The accounts on those sites were linked to an email address associated with Harper-Mercer.

Nothing in those online profiles suggested the suffocating hate or alienation that might drive someone to put on body armor, grab six guns and extra ammunition, and open fire on college students trapped in a classroom, killing nine.

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He liked romantic comedies, was looking to date a “geek, nerd, intellectual, punk, introvert, loner, lover,” and was slated to be a production assistant in the college theater production of the comic play, “Blithe Spirit.”

But two law enforcement sources say they found evidence that he had white supremacist, anti-government and anti-religious leanings, and that he left a “hate-filled” note. Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said he was enrolled in the class he targeted at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. Witnesses have said he asked students if they were Christian, and those who said yes were killed, while others were shot in the legs.

Harper-Mercer long struggled with mental health issues, law enforcement sources said.

The allegations add to a messy and mystifying portrait emerging of Harper-Mercer, who, despite his allegedly white supremacist leanings, was mixed-race and lived with a hyper-protective black mother who appeared to be his only true companion.

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On a website called Kickass Torrents, a person who used the email associated with Harper-Mercer commented about a television news reporter and cameraman in Virginia shot by a disgruntled ex-employee, as he took video.

“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.… 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.”

His last upload on the site, earlier this week, was a documentary about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, which left 20 students and six staff members dead.

Harper-Mercer lived most of his life in the Los Angeles area, with his mother, Laurel Harper.

Neighbors at the apartment complex in Torrance where they lived before moving to Oregon in 2013 said he rode his red beach cruiser around and wore green military-style pants tucked into black combat boots.

Reina Webb, 19, recalls how closely his mother would keep an eye on him, which to her, “was kind of weird, because he seemed like a grown man.”

She remembers how his mom had to calm him the day he found that someone had slashed the tires on his bike. “He had a fit almost,” Webb said. “Almost like a tantrum, like a kid.… He was upset, crying and doing all that stuff because of the tires on his bike.”

Other times, neighbors could hear him in the family’s apartment yelling at his mother as she tried to calm him down. “He would get mad if things weren’t his way,” Webb said. “But she always had him in control.”

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Although she never interacted with Harper-Mercer, Webb remembers his mother as a “really nice lady.” “She’d always talk to everybody, say hello and be super nice and always try and watch her son,” Webb said. “She always tried to take care of him.”

Harper, a nurse, wrote on a Yahoo forum that her son had Asperger’s syndrome, which can severely limit social development and spark emotional meltdowns, but is not associated with predatory behavior.

“My son has Asperger’s,” she wrote in one post nine years ago, under the username TweetyBird. “He’s no babbling idiot nor is his life worthless. He’s very intelligent and is working on a career in filmmaking.”

In a comment three years ago, she offered advice to a parent with a son diagnosed with the developmental disorder.

“Now, every person is different and what is true about one autistic person may not be true about another but if it’s any comfort to you, if your son’s degree isn’t too severe, he should improve over time. I was in your shoes and now my son’s in college.”

In November 2008, Harper-Mercer enlisted in the Army, but flunked basic training and was discharged the next month “for failing to meet the minimum administrative standards,” according to Army records. Military officials did not provide further details.

He attended El Camino College in Torrance from 2010 to 2012, but it is not clear whether he got a degree.

In 2011, he signed up on the website Mashable, using a Facebook account that is now shut down. According to Mashable, his Facebook profile included “a reference to Nazi Germany” and had a quotation: “When all the pleasures of the world have diluted, the only thing left that is pure is power.”

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But his dating profile on the website Spiritual Passions — for spiritual people of all religions and belief systems — was fairly benign. The information on the website could not be conclusively verified, although it includes a photo of Harper-Mercer.

He said he liked all types of movies from sci-fi to comedy. He described himself as “shy at first, but warm up quickly, better in small groups,” a conservative Republican whose hobbies were “Internet, killing zombies, movies, music, reading.”

He said he was seeking any type of connection with a white or mixed-race woman: “romance, soulmate, conversation, miss right now, the yin to my yang, dating, penpal, friends only, relationship, miss right.” He did not want anyone who was religious, “but spiritual, pagan, Wiccan.”

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

Twitter: @brittny_mejia

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

Twitter: @joemozingo

Times staff writers Irfan Khan, Christine Mai-Duc, Sarah Parvini and Ruben Vives in Los Angeles, and W.J. Hennigan in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.


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