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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Gunman who killed nine asked students to state their religion before he opened fire

Chris Harper Mercer who has been identified by US media as the gunman in Oregon shooting in which at least nine people died and dozens more were wounded
Chris Harper Mercer who has been identified by US media as the gunman in Oregon shooting in which at least nine people died and dozens more were wounded
Kristen Sterner, left, and Carrissa Welding, students of Umpqua Community College, embrace each other during a vigil for those killed at the college (AP)
A woman is comforted after a shooting at Umpqua Community College (AP)
Friends and family wait for students at the local fairgrounds after the deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College (AP)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the shooting, in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House (AP)

Armed with multiple guns, a 26-year-old man walked into a morning writing class at the community college in rural Oregon and opened fire, hitting some students with multiple gunshots.

At least nine people were killed by the gunman and one witness said the attacker demanded to know students’ religion before shooting them.

A witness said a teacher at Umpqua Community College was struck in the head.

SHOOTOUT

The killer, identified as Chris Harper Mercer, died following a shootout with police.

Police were not saying whether they knew of any motive.

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Students in a classroom next door heard several shots, one right after the next, and their teacher told them to leave.

“We began to run. A lot of my classmates were going every which way. We started to run and I turned around, and I saw students pouring out of the building,” student Hannah Miles said.

Others 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.

Kortney Moore (18) said she was in a writing class when a shot came through the window and hit the teacher in the head.

The gunman then entered the Snyder Hall classroom and told people to get on the floor. He then told people to stand up and state their religion before opening fire.

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The gunfire, shortly after 10.30am local time, sparked panic as students ran for safety and police and ambulances rushed to the scene.

Hannah Miles (19) said she was in her writing class when her teacher got a call from security saying the school was in lockdown. She heard gunshots from a neighbouring classroom.

She said that huddled together in the locked classroom, the students and teacher heard footsteps outside and a man’s voice call out to them: “Come on out, come on out.”

They remained quiet and did not open the door.

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Police soon arrived and, after students were convinced that it was indeed officers, they opened the door.

“It was like a huge burden had been lifted,” she said. “A huge sigh of relief that we were going to be OK.”

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said at least two officers acted heroically in the shoot-out, but it was not clear if the gunman was killed by authorities or whether he took his own life.

At a news conference, a visibly angry Mr Hanlin said he would not name the shooter.

 “I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.

“It’s been a terrible day. Certainly this is a huge shock to our community,” he added.

The worst mass shooting in recent Oregon history has raised questions about security at the 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.

VIGIL

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.

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.

A neighbour, Bronte Harte, said Mercer “seemed really unfriendly” and would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light.”

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

Ian Mercer, Chris Harper Mercer’s father, 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 said the shooting didn’t make sense.

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

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.

HOSPITAL

Carnes’ best friend told Chandler that her daughter had been flown by helicopter to a hospital.

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.

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