Oregon gunman was Army dropout who studied mass shooters
ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) — The 26-year-old gunman who opened fire on fellow students in his community college English class, killing nine people, was an Army boot camp dropout who studied mass shooters before becoming one himself.
A day after the rampage in this Oregon timber town, authorities said Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer wore a flak jacket and brought at least six guns and five ammunition magazines to the school. Investigators found another seven guns at the apartment he shared with his mother.
Officials on Friday also released the names of the dead, who ranged in age from 18 to 67 and included several freshmen and a teacher. They were sons and daughters, spouses and parents.
One of the students was active in the Future Farmers of America and loved to play soccer. Another was on only his fourth day of college. One was a 59-year-old student whose daughter was enrolled in the same school but not injured the shooting. Grieving families began sharing details of their loved ones.
"We have been trying to figure out how to tell everyone how amazing Lucas was, but that would take 18 years," the family of Lucas Eibel, 18, said in a statement released through the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
Eibel, who was studying chemistry, volunteered at a wildlife center and animal shelter.
Quinn Glen Cooper's family said their son had just started college and loved dancing and voice acting.
"I don't know how we are going to move forward with our lives without Quinn," the Coopers said. "Our lives are shattered beyond repair."
Seven other people were wounded in the attack in Roseburg, about 180 miles south of Portland.
Harper-Mercer, who died during a shootout with police, was armed with handguns and a rifle, some of which were military grade. The weapons had been purchased legally over the past three years, some by him, others by relatives, said Celinez Nunez, assistant field agent for the Seattle division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Oregon's top federal prosecutor says the shooter used a handgun when he opened fire on classmates and stashed a rifle in another room and did not fire it. He says it's impossible to know what the shooter had planned for the rifle.
Those who knew the shooter described an awkward loner.
At a different apartment complex where Harper-Mercer and his mother lived in Southern California, neighbors remembered a quiet and odd young man who rode a red bike everywhere.
Reina Webb, 19, said the man's mother was friendly and often chatted with neighbors, but Harper-Mercer kept to himself. She said she occasionally heard him having temper tantrums in his apartment.
"He was kind of like a child so that's why his tantrums would be like kind of weird. He's a grown man. He shouldn't be having a tantrum like a kid. That's why I thought there was something — something was up," she said.
Harper-Mercer's social media profiles suggested he was fascinated by the Irish Republican Army and frustrated by traditional organized religion. He also tracked other mass shootings. In one post, he appeared to urge readers to watch the online footage of Vester Flanagan shooting two former colleagues live on TV in August in Virginia, noting "the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."
He may have even posted a warning. A message on 4chan — a forum where racist and misogynistic comments are frequent — warned of an impending attack, but it's unclear if it came from Harper-Mercer.
"Some of you guys are alright. Don't go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest," an anonymous poster wrote a day before the shootings.
On Thursday morning, he walked into Snyder Hall at Umpqua Community College and began firing, shooting many victims repeatedly. Survivors described a classroom of carnage, and one said he ordered students to state their religion before shooting them.
Students in a classroom next door heard several shots, one right after the other, and their teacher told them to leave.
"We began to run," student Hannah Miles said. "A lot of my classmates were going every which way. We started to run to the center of campus. And I turned around, and I saw students pouring out of the building."
An aunt of an Army veteran hit by several bullets said he tried to stop the gunman from entering the classroom.
Wanda Mintz said her 30-year-old nephew, Chris Mintz, a student at the college, fell to the floor and asked the shooter to stop. But, she said, he shot Mintz again and went inside.
Portland Fire and Rescue Lt. Rich Chatman, who is serving as a spokesman for the criminal investigation, said investigators were still processing the crime scene.
Several years ago, Harper-Mercer moved to Winchester, Oregon, from Torrance, California, with his mother, a nurse named Laurel Harper. His father, Ian Mercer, originally from the United Kingdom, told reporters outside his Tarzana, California, home, "I'm just as shocked as anybody at what happened."
At school in Oregon, "he was a typical Roseburg kid, kind of nerdy, kind of out there. Just himself," said Alex Frier, a stage manager at the college who said Harper-Mercer built sets for theater performances last semester.
A neighbor, Bronte Harte, said Harper-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.
The Army said Harper-Mercer flunked out of basic training in 2008.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ben Garrett said Harper-Mercer was in the military for a little over a month at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, but was discharged for failing to meet the minimum standards.
Garrett did not say which standards Harper-Mercer failed. Generally, the Army requires recruits to pass physical fitness tests and to be in generally good physical and mental health. Recruits must also pass a multiple-choice test covering science, math, reading comprehension and other topics.
In Washington, President Barack Obama lamented the government's inability to pass stricter gun laws even after attacks like the one in Oregon.
At a news conference Friday at the White House, Obama said he plans to keep talking about the issue and "will politicize it" because inaction is itself a political decision the U.S. is making.
He said it's impossible to identify mentally ill people likely to perpetrate mass shootings ahead of time. The only thing the U.S. can do, he explained, is ensure they don't have an arsenal available "when something in them snaps."
Authorities released the identities of the victims Friday. See Below:
Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59, loved the outdoors, her 18-year-old daughter and her two Great Pyrenees dogs, said Robert Stryk, the owner of Pyrenees Vineyards in Myrtle Creek, where Dietz worked as a caretaker for many years.
Dietz was taking classes at the same college as her daughter, who was unhurt in the shooting, Stryk said.
"That's really the tragedy here, is that this is a woman who was just trying to better herself," he said.
Dietz's ex-husband, Eric, is the vineyard manager, and both were still close friends, Stryk said.
Eric Dietz, who had posted updates on his Facebook page while searching for news of his daughter and ex-wife, on Friday posted a picture of Kim and confirmation of her death "with deep grief in my heart."
Stryk said that the two had met in Southern California, but that Kim Dietz was originally from England.
"She was a very energetic, very kind, kind soul," he said. "Kim was an exceptional woman."
The father of 19-year-old Lucero Alcaraz fought back tears and anger outside of his Roseburg home Friday.
"There is no sense in talking about it. It's in vain," Ezequiel Alcaraz said in Spanish. "What's the point in showing our pain?"
Lucero's sister, Maria Leticia Alcaraz, posted to Facebook that her sister was missing, then broke the news that she was dead.
"Never in a million years would I have imagined going through something like this. She was my best friend and my sister," she wrote. "I can't begin to describe how I feel. I'm full of anger, pain, sadness, regret that I didn't get the chance to see her or prevent this from happening."
Maria Leticia Alcaraz wrote of being proud of her sister for getting scholarships that would cover the entirety of her college costs, and for the fact that she was in college honors and wrote that she "would have been a great pediatric nurse."
"You were going to do great things," she wrote.
Jason Johnson had just started his first week at the college, his mother told NBC News Friday.
Tonja Johnson Engel said that her son had struggled with drug abuse, but decided to continue his education after completing a six-month rehab program with The Salvation Army in Portland.
"The other day, he looked at me and hugged me and said, 'Mom, how long have you been waiting for one of your kids to go to college?' And I said, 'Oh, about 20 years,'" Engel told NBC News.
She said that her son kissed her before he left for class Thursday morning.
"Love ya," Engel told NBC her son told her (http://nbcnews.to/1VsXTDZ ). "I'll see you this afternoon."
In a family statement read by police Friday, Jason's mother said that Jason was proud of himself for enrolling in school, and so was his mom. They felt that Jason had finally found his path. His family says that he will be loved and missed.
Quinn Glen Cooper of Roseburg, age 18. In a statement issued Friday, his family wrote that "Quinn was funny, sweet, compassionate and such a wonderful loving person."
"He always stood up for people," the statement reads. He was going to take his brown belt test next week, and loved dancing and voice acting and playing Ingress with his older brother, Cody.
"Our lives are shattered beyond repair," his family wrote. We send our condolences to all the families who have been so tragically affected by this deranged gunman. No one should ever have to feel the pain we are feeling. Please remember the victims and their families. Please remember Quinn."
Lucas Eibel of Roseburg, 18. A statement by his family says that Eibel, who was studying chemistry, loved Future Farmers of America and volunteering at Wildlife Safari and Saving Grace animal shelter.
"He was an amazing soccer player," a family statement reads. His family also noted his academic achievements, including graduating Roseburg High School with high academic marks, receiving a Ford Family Foundation scholarship, and receiving an Umpqua Community College scholars award.
Lawrence Levine of Glide, 67, was an assistant professor of English at the college. Levine was a member of Steamboaters, a fly fishing and conservation group.
Dale Greenley, a fellow member of the group said Levine was an avid fisherman who used to be a guide on the north Umpqua River.
"He was kind of quiet and laid back, he didn't say much," Greenley said. "But he was a good writer."
Sarena Dawn Moore of Myrtle Creek, age 44, was a member of Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had a post on its Facebook page mourning her death.
Treven Taylor Anspach of Sutherlin, age 20.
In a written statement read by officials, his family said that he was "one of the most positive young men, always looking for the best in life."
"Treven was larger than life and brought out the best in those around him," his family wrote.
Rebecka Ann Carnes of Myrtle Creek, age 18. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said that Carnes is the great-granddaughter of his first cousin. In a written statement, Merkley wrote: "Rebecka's beautiful spirit will be enormously missed."
A GoFundMe site has been set up for Carnes by her cousin, Lisa Crawford at http://bit.ly/1ON5WHD. As of Friday afternoon, the site had raised more than $1,200 to help Carnes' parents "with Becka's final expenses."
"I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have watched Becka grow up," Crawford wrote on the site. "She had just started a new job and college classes. This isn't how life is supposed to work and I am struggling to wrap my mind around the entire situation."
Crawford asked said that the people in Carnes' life "loved her fiercely and are devastated."
"Don't let life ever become so busy that you don't have a moment to stop and be kind to someone," Crawford wrote. "Let love and gentleness shine in the wake of this violence."