The gunman in Thursday’s mass murder at an Oregon community college specifically targeted Christians, three witnesses said, while online accounts linked to the shooter expressed disdain for organized religion.
Authorities say Christopher Harper Mercer killed at least nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg before he was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.
One victim remains in critical condition at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, according to chief medical officer Dr. Jason Gray. He said his hospital received 10 patients.
One student said the shooting began when a bullet flew through a classroom window, hitting her teacher in the head.
Kortney Moore, 18, told the Roseburg News-Review that the shooter then burst into the room and ordered students to get on the ground, before asking people to stand up and state their religion. He then began firing. Moore said she was lying on the ground with people who had been shot.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said the initial calls about the shooting came in at 10:38 a.m. He told reporters that the shooter died after engaging in a gunfight with responding officers, either in or near a classroom.
Investigators found “a number of firearms” at the gunman’s apartment, according to Sheriff Hanlin. He says details on the number and types of weapons will be released later Friday. An official tells the New York Times that Mercer had three weapons during the shooting, including at least one long gun.
The shooting sparked panic at the usually quiet college, more than 70 miles south of Eugene. Some students ran for their lives, while others crammed into buses taking them to safety.
Student Hannah Miles said, “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.”
Investigators have shed very little light publicly on Mercer’s possible motive for the shooting. However, reports indicated they were examining Mercer’s online presence very closely. One law enforcement official described Mercer to The New York Times as appearing to be “an angry young man who was very filled with hate.” Another official said investigators were poring over what he described as “hateful” writings by Mercer. Oregon’s top federal prosecutor told The Oregonian newspaper that authorities had heard rumors that the gunman had issued “some sort of race-related manifesto” before the shooting.
Twitter user @bodhilooney posted a statement on the social network claiming that her grandmother was inside the classroom.
Janet Willis told the Los Angeles Times that her 18-year-old granddaughter, Ana Boylan, had been shot in the back and was airlifted to a hospital in Eugene. Willis said Boylan told her that the gunman asked others in the classroom to rise and state their religion.
“If they said they were Christians, they were shot again,” Willis said. “[Boylan and another wounded girl] just laid on the ground and pretended they were dead.”
Mercer’s father says he’s as shocked as anybody else. Ian Mercer spoke to KABC-TV and several other media outlets gathered outside his house in Tarzana, California late Thursday night.
He said it’s been a “devastating day” for him and his family and said he has been talking to police and the FBI about the shooting.
He refused to answer questions and asked that his family’s privacy be respected.
The Daily Beast reported that a MySpace page bearing Chris Harper Mercer’s name featured an image of him holding a gun, as well as images of Irish Republican Army propaganda. The website also reported that Mercer created an online dating profile that listed “organized religion” as one of his “dislikes.” The profile also described Mercer’s political views as “conservative, republican.”
Mercer “seemed really unfriendly” and would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light,” according to neighbor Bronte Harte, speaking to the Associated Press.
The New York Post identified the dating site as SpiritualPassions.com and reported that Mercer used the screen name “Ironcross45,” a possible reference to a WWII decoration awarded to Nazi soldiers.
Federal law enforcement officials told The New York Times they were examining an online conversation on the anonymous message board 4chan that was posted the night before the shooting. In that conversation, one writer says, “Some of you guys are all right [sic]. Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest.”
The post made no mention of a shooting, Umpqua Community College, or Roseburg, but did include a photo of a crudely drawn frog with a gun used regularly in Internet memes. The messages that followed spoke of mass shootings, with some egging on and even offering tips to the original poster.
FoxNews.com/The Associated Press contributed to this report.