- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

A gunman opened fire Thursday morning inside a classroom at a community college in rural Roseburg, Oregon, killing at least nine people and injuring seven more after reportedly asking people to state their religion.

The shooter was killed in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers who responded to Umpqua Community College.

The deadly incident was the 142nd school shooting since a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

The rampage immediately drew swift condemnation from President Obama, who said lawmakers have allowed tragedies like this to become routine by not reforming gun laws.

“This is a political choice that we make — to allow this to happen every few months in America,” President Obama said. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”

It’s unclear whether the gunman, identified by some news agencies as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, attended the school or lived in Oregon.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and other officials shed no light on the gunman’s motive and said they were investigating, but briefly described his encounter with law enforcement.

“Upon arriving there, they located the shooter in one of the buildings. Officers engaged that suspect [and] there was an exchange of gunfire,” Sheriff Hanlin said of the shootout.

Media reports indicate the man was heavily armed and was active on social media, voicing frustration with his social life and the possibility of a shooting. CNN said three pistols and one rifle believed to have belonged to the suspect were recovered at the scene.

The school has a single unarmed security guard.

Calls reporting the shooting began to pour into the Douglas County 911 call center around 10:38 a.m. PDT.

Eighteen-year-old student Kortney Moore of Rogue River told the Roseburg News-Review that she was in a writing class when a shot was fired into the classroom through a window. Her teacher was shot in the head, and the gunman who entered her classroom told students to get on the ground.

The man started asking people to stand up and state their religion and then opened fire, Ms. Moore said.

Several students on their way to the community college campus were turned back and took shelter for a short time at Accurate Limited, a nearby automotive parts manufacturer, according to employee Dan Spencer. The students had been flagged down on their way to the campus by others who were fleeing and told them to turn around. For the rest of the day, Mr. Spencer said he and other employees locked down their store and listened closely to radio traffic on police scanners to try to learn more details.

“With a small community like this, the chances of knowing somebody who got hurt is pretty high,” Mr. Spencer said.

About 3,000 full-time and 16,000 part-time students are enrolled at Umpqua Community College. The town of Roseburg, located about 180 miles south of Portland, has a population of about 22,000.

“We’re all sick to our stomachs,” said Ashley Johnson, a waitress at Winchester Pub and Grill, a restaurant located about a mile from the college.

Student Heather Tiemann, 42, said she should have been in the building where the shooting took place at the time the gunman began to open fire but hadn’t been feeling well, so she stayed home.

“An hour later I was getting calls, like, ‘Oh, are you OK?’ ” she said.

Hours after the shooting, she heard back from one classmate who was locked down in another building, but she was still waiting to hear word from others.

“I’m trying to find out if it was my teacher that was hurt,” Ms. Tiemann said. “I haven’t been able to get a hold of other classmates. It’s a waiting game right now.”

Students and staff were being bused to the Douglas County Fairgrounds to be reunified with their families.

“We are still sorting through trying to reunify students with their families,” said Umpqua Community College President Rita Cavin. “We have families waiting for the last bus to arrive with students on it, and we have grief counselors for those parents who have no children coming off that bus.”

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in a news conference held in Portland that she was heartbroken and dismayed over the news of the shooting. She ordered flags throughout the state to be lowered to half-staff in honor of the victims.

“While it is still too early to know all of the facts, the effects of an incident such as this one are long-lasting,” Ms. Brown said. “Please join me in keeping the victims and their families, as well as first responders, in your thoughts.”

⦁ This story is base in part on wire service reports.

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