Ryan Kang / AP

Nine killed by gunman in shooting at Oregon college

26-year-old gunman killed in shootout with officers; no apparent motive known

At least nine people were killed by a gunman and 20 others wounded Thursday in a shooting at a community college in southwestern Oregon, authorities said.

The Associated Press reported that a government official who was not authorized to speak publicly and who spoke on condition of anonymity identified the gunman as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer. On Thursday night, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said the official identification will come from the medical examiner's office.

Authorities said the gunman died after a shootout with law enforcement officers who responded to reports of the shooting within minutes. Authorites shed no light on his motive and said they were investigating. 

Mercer had been living at an apartment complex in nearby Winchester and yellow police tape surrounded the building Thursday night, according to the AP.

Gerry Eifert, a spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, told Al Jazeera that surviving students and faculty at Umpqua Community College in the city of Roseburg are being offered psychological services. On Thursday night, people gathered to mourn at a candlelight vigil in a local park.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said during a brief public appearance in Portland before heading 180 miles south to Roseburg that the suspected shooter was a 20-year-old male. She expressed her "profound dismay and heartbreak at this tragedy."

Hanlin said in news conference hours after the attack that 10 people died and seven were wounded in the attack, but added that there are conflicting reports on casualty numbers. Earlier reports said that 13 were dead and 20 were wounded. An FBI spokeswoman said the gunman was included in death toll, according to the AP.

A visibly weary and angry President Barack Obama offered his thoughts and prayers for the deceased and their loved ones during a press conference at the White House, adding, "Our thoughts and prayers are not enough."

"This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America," he said of mass shootings. "We are collectively answerable to those families that lose their loved ones."

He urged voters to pressure their representatives on gun control and expressed his desire to work with other elected officials on the issue. "This is something that should be politicized. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic," he said.

Not counting Thursday's carnage, a total of 293 mass shootings have been reported since January 2015, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker website, a crowd-sourced database kept by anti-gun activists that defines a mass shooting as any event in which four or more people are shot.

Amid the crisis, local TV station KATU said that police took students out of the school and told them to keep their hands above their heads as they filed out. Some of the injured received treatment at the scene. 

"Students and faculty members are being bused to the Douglas County Fairgrounds and can be picked up there," the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.

Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg said in a tweet that the hospital received 10 patients.

"We locked our door, and I went out to lock up the restrooms and could hear four shots from the front of campus," Dennis O’Neill, the director of the college's foundation, told The Roseburg News Review.

Rita Cavin, the interim college president, said it was awful to watch families waiting for the last bus of survivors only to find their loved ones were not on it.

"This is a tragedy and an anomaly," she said. "We have a wonderful, warm, loving and friendly campus."

Former Umpqua Community College President Joe Olson, who retired in June after four years, said the school had no formal security staff, just one officer on a shift. "I suspect this is going to start a discussion across the country about how community colleges prepare themselves for events like this," he said.

The school has no plans to change its security protocols, Calvin said.

Responding to a question from reporters about the shooting, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton said Thursday evening that the United States needs "sensible gun measures to save lives."

"It's just beyond my comprehension that we are seeing these mass murders happening again and again and again," she said.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who became a full-time gun control activist after surviving a 2012 gunshot wound to the head, issued a statement with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, decrying the "violence and bloodshed."

"We can do better than this. We must do better than this," they said. "This is not the America we all strive for, is it?"

Hanlin, the Douglas County sheriff overseeing the investigation of the shooting, has been vocal in opposing state and federal gun-control legislation. He registered his opposition this year as state lawmakers considered requiring background checks on private, person-to-person gun sales.

Hanlin told a legislative committee in March that a background-check mandate wouldn't prevent criminals from getting firearms.

He said the state should combat gun violence by cracking down on convicted criminals found with guns, and by addressing people with unmanaged mental health issues.

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."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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