US reeling after gunman kills nine in Oregon college classroom

President Obama laments that mass shootings have become ‘routine’ and that America has become ‘numb’ to such incidents

The United States finds itself once again reeling from another mass shooting at an educational institution, after nine people were killed by a gunman at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in a scenario that President Barack Obama lamented has become “routine.”

Armed with multiple guns, the 26-year-old shooter walked into a morning writing class at the community college in the rural town of Roseburg and opened fire, hitting some students with multiple gunshots. One witness said a teacher was struck in the head. Another said the attacker demanded to know students' religion before shooting them on Thursday, the fourth day of class at the college. Police, however, were not saying whether they knew of any motive behind the assault.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin told Al Jazeera on Friday morning that the investigation in and around the shooter's residence was ongoing and that authorities had recovered “a number of firearms” as result of that probe.

At a subsequent press conference, officials said 13 weapons in all had been recovered in the investigation. All of them had been bought legally.

Students in a classroom next door to the scene of the massacre 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 killer died after exchanging gunfire with two police officers who confronted him.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Thursday, President Barack Obama challenged voters wanting to deal with the problem to vote for elected officials focused on tightening the nation's gun laws. He has had no success through his nearly seven years in the White House in getting Congress to take action on the issue. 

“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this,” Obama said. 

Over the past several years, Obama has traveled to Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; Charleston, South Carolina; Newtown, Connecticut, and many other cities to mourn victims of gun violence.

Hanlin said at a news conference he was not going to say the shooter's name because that's what he would have wanted.

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

But a law enforcement source confirmed to Reuters media reports naming the suspect as Chris Harper-Mercer, 26.

The sheriff has been vocal in opposing state and federal gun-control legislation. In 2013, Hanlin sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden after the shooting at a Newtown elementary school, declaring that he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun-control restrictions “offending the constitutional rights of my citizens.”

Hanlin told Al Jazeera that at this time, he was “staying focused on this investigation and finding answers to all the questions that the victims and the families of the victims deserve to know.”

“I know that conversation around firearms will occur and needs to occur, but now is not the time,” he said. 

The shooting on the campus in the former timber town 180 miles south of Portland shattered the first week of classes at the community college with about 3,000 students.

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.

A man identifying himself as Ian Mercer, the gunman's father, spoke briefly to a throng of reporters and camera crews outside his home in Los Angeles on Thursday night.

“It's been a devastating day, devastating for me and my family,” he said, according to a transcript provided by KNBC-TV.

Hanlin, meanwhile, said an investigation was underway by homicide detectives and federal agents. 

Al Jazeera and wire services. Allen Schauffler contributed to this report from Roseberg, Oregon.

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter