Witness: Gunman Told Victims To State Religion Before Mass Shooting
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Yesterday was Sarah Cobb's fourth day of college, and it was one the 17-year-old will never forget. She walked into her morning class, English composition, on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. Suddenly, she heard a loud noise. She looked out the window and saw people running. In the next classroom, she heard more of what she now recognized as gun shots. And that's when Sarah Cobb ran, too.
SARAH COBB: My parents have always told me, stay alert, be aware of your surroundings. And once that noise happened, I'd looked around to see what's going on. And that's probably what saved my life.
MONTAGNE: The mass shooting left 10 people dead, including the gunman, and seven wounded. Law-enforcement officials have descended on the small Oregon town to figure out what happened and why. NPR's Tom Goldman is in Roseburg and joined us from there. Good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tom, what are authorities saying about what's happened?
GOLDMAN: A little after 10:30 in the morning local time yesterday, the first 911 calls came in. Law enforcement was on the campus in minutes. And according to authorities, at least two officers entered a building and exchanged gunfire with a man. Now, the county sheriff says after the exchange, quote, "the shooter threat was neutralized." Now, it's not known yet if the gunman was killed by law enforcement bullets or took his own life. Multiple reports say the gunman had several weapons, pistols and a rifle and was wearing body armor, but NPR has not confirmed that.
MONTAGNE: And what, at this point, is known about the person who was the shooter?
GOLDMAN: Well, last night, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said - and I'm quoting - "we have information that leads us to believe we know who the shooter is. The official ID is going to come from the medical examiner's office." Hanlin wouldn't confirm reports that were identifying the shooter late last night. In fact, Hanlin said he won't name the shooter at any point.
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JOHN HANLIN: I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.
GOLDMAN: Now, it is being widely reported, Renee, that officials have identified the gunman as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, who reportedly lived in the Roseburg area. But NPR has not independently confirmed any of that information.
MONTAGNE: One detail, Tom, that has been reported widely is something the shooter allegedly said to victims. What can you tell us about that?
GOLDMAN: Well, the father of one of the people who was wounded and who's apparently OK after surgery - the father's name is Stacy Boylan. He said the shooter asked people if they were Christian. And then if they said, yes, he said, good because you're going to see God in about a second. This, again, is from the father of one of the shooting victims who was wounded, and it's not coming from investigators.
MONTAGNE: And what about the victims, both those who died and those who were wounded?
GOLDMAN: We don't know the identities of those who died yet. Sheriff Hanlin said yesterday, it would be today at the earliest that we'll find out. There is a briefing scheduled for later this morning, and we may find out more then.
MONTAGNE: And just finally, Tom, you're based in Portland. That's about a three-hour drive north of Roseburg. What do you know about this community?
GOLDMAN: There are about 22,000 residents. Its big industry has been timber, but that industry is not what it once was in Oregon and in Roseburg, certainly. Douglas County, which includes Roseburg, has one of the higher unemployment rates in the state. And this is the importance of Umpqua Community College. It's the only college in Roseburg and the county. The average student age is the late 30s. And this is where many go to reinvent themselves and find new careers.
The town is small enough and connected enough that you don't have to go far to find people who were touched by this event. Even checking into my hotel, the woman at the front desk said her son went to Roseburg High School with one of the people who was wounded in the shooting. And last night, Umpqua Community College President Rita Cavin said one of the blessings of a small town is that people are interconnected. She mentioned how people rushed to help and to comfort. And she said at the end of a long, sad, tragic day, the thing we should take away is the power that love can bring to a community.
MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Tom Goldman speaking to us from Roseburg, Ore.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And we'll continue tracking that story throughout this morning.
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