News

Actions

Strong gun support in town of college shooting

Posted at 7:37 AM, Oct 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-02 07:37:44-04

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- Hunting deer, elk and bear in the surrounding hills and fishing for salmon and steelhead have strong followings in southern Oregon's timber country, made famous by Western writer Zane Gray, who counted the North Umpqua River his favorite place to fish.

So does support for the right to own and carry a gun.

"I carry to protect myself - the exact same reason this happened," said Casey Runyan, referring to the deadly shootings Thursday at Umpqua Community College. Runyan carries a Glock 29 automatic pistol everywhere he goes.

"All my friends agree with me. That's the only kind of friends I have," said Runyan, a disabled Marine Corps veteran who says he carried a machine gun in the infantry in Iraq.

The county's top law enforcement officer, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, spoke out against state and federal gun-control legislation last year, telling a legislative committee that mandating background checks for private, person-to-person gun sales would not prevent criminals from getting firearms.

Hanlin also sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013, after the shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school. Hanlin said he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun-control restrictions "offending the constitutional rights of my citizens."

Retired U.S. Army nurse Donice "Maggie Rose" Smith, who also hosts a talk show on Internet radio, said she and her husband, a retired Army captain, chose Douglas County for their retirement because of a low crime rate, and strong local support for First and Second Amendment Rights.

J.C. Smith said barring people from carrying guns on campus made it particularly vulnerable to a "lone wolf" attack.

"With current world events, (armed people) would keep the ground safer," he said.

Twenty five years after Oregon's timber industry went into a tailspin as protection for the northern spotted owl reduced national forest logging and automation took over jobs, the region still counts timber as a major part of its economy, but now wineries draw in tourists.

Umpqua Community College offers courses ranging from nursing to the wine industry, said interim President Rita Cavin.

Cavin said the college has a policy of no guns on campus, but did not feel the need for an armed security presence.

"This is an anomaly and a tragedy," she said of the shooting.

At a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting, former student Sam Sherman said Roseburg was a "poor town, a mill town."

"People don't generally aspire to greater things here. So having a place you can go to do that is a big deal. For something that terrible to happen at such a small school is frustrating," he said.

'A Terrible Day'

Armed with multiple guns, a 26-year-old man walked into a morning writing class at Umpqua Community College 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 one witness said the attacker demanded to know students' religion before shooting them on Thursday, the fourth day of class at the 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, according to a government official who was not authorized to speak publicly and provided the name on condition of anonymity. 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.