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After Mass Shooting, An Oregon Community Seeks Answers


Roseburg, Ore. is a logging community. Look on a map, and you see a town by a river bend far from any major city.


Scan the Twitter timeline of the local paper, the News Review, and you'd see ordinary news up until yesterday. A recall petition was filed against a local official. An ambulance crashed into a car. People talked about rivers at a forum on climate change. And they embraced National Coffee Day.

MONTAGNE: Then, at mid-morning, everything changed. News spread of students and staff fleeing after a gunman opened fire in a college classroom. When it was over, 10 people, including the shooter, were dead. Chris Lehman, of the Northwest News Network, reports.

CHRIS LEHMAN, BYLINE: It was Evan Hocker's fourth day as a college student. The fall semester began just this week at Umpqua Community College, where Hocker is studying computer science. Then, this.

EVAN HOCKER: I heard gunshots. And then someone - or one of my teachers - said that there was a shooting. And then we all just went into a closet with a group of people and locked the whole place down.

LEHMAN: Hocker and his classmates stayed there more than three hours before police gave them the all-clear. After the shooting, students were bussed to a nearby fairground to be reunited with their families. And yes, Hocker says he never imagined something like this could happen in Roseburg, a rural town of 22,000.

HOCKER: Not in a town like this, where nothing really bad happens at all. Everything's small, and everything's perfectly fine usually.

LEHMAN: Eyewitnesses say a gunman entered a classroom and opened fire. Students called 911, and local law enforcement showed up within minutes. Police say the shooter died in a gunfight with officers. Police have not said whether the gunman took his life or whether police killed him. As of yet, there's no word of the gunman's motive. The college's interim president, Rita Cavin, called it the saddest day in the 50-year history of the school.


RITA CAVIN: Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and to the staff and students who witnessed this atrocity. This is a real crisis situation.


LEHMAN: As darkness fell on Roseburg, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil at a local park. Oregon Governor Kate Brown called on the community to come together to, in her words, banish fear and affirm love.


GOV KATE BROWN: And in our sorrow, we will remember and honor those lost here today. And in this way, they will live forever in our hearts.

LEHMAN: Not mentioned at the vigil, the name of alleged shooter, 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, who lived in a town near the campus. In fact, Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice urged the crowd to refuse to give the gunman any attention at all.


CHRIS BOICE: I challenge you all to never utter his name. This is about the families. This is about the victims. This is about our community. And this is about the tragic loss that we all suffered today. And this is not about the shooter.


LEHMAN: Oregon's governor has ordered the state's flags lowered to half-staff until sunset today. It's the deadliest mass shooting in state history. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman in Roseburg, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chris Lehmann
Chris Lehman is a fomer deputy editor and regular reviewer for the Washington Post Book World. He is now an editor at Congressional Quarterly and covers national politics for the New York Observer. He is the author of Revolt of the Masscult.

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