by Jacob Solis
Editor’s Note: THE WHOLE STORY will be an occasional feature where The Nevada Sagebrush takes a comprehensive look at a story, be it local, national or otherwise, that developed quickly — often too quickly — causing some details to remain hazy to those of us not glued to the newswires. All the facts, from what we know to how we know it to what we don’t know, will be in one place.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, nine people were shot and killed at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Another died later that day at an area hospital while [seven] more lay wounded, according to local authorities.
The incident was the latest in a morbid routine of mass shootings that have plagued America for 16 years since the Columbine shooting in 1999. It prompted anger from President Barack Obama, who has become well-versed in addressing mass shootings — from the deaths of 13 at Fort Hood in 2009, to the deaths of 20 young children and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and to the countless others struck dead by gun violence in the seven years since he took office.
While the shooting in Oregon was brief, the consequences are still reverberating around the country. But first, the facts:
What we know
Eight of the victims who died on the scene were students, the ninth was a teacher. Several of the students were young, only 18 years old. The shooting was confined to a single room, the composition classroom that the shooter had shared with classmates just days before.
The shooter’s name was Christopher Harper-Mercer. He chose six of his 14 guns, all purchased legally according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to use in his rampage. It lasted 10 minutes. Police arrived within 6 minutes of the first 911 call, according to The Associated Press, and engaged Mercer for 2 minutes.
He killed himself during that shootout.
Due to conflicting reports from witnesses, the shooter’s motives remain hazy. Some reports have Mercer shooting and killing Christians while other reports have him killing indiscriminately and randomly.
Police have found a manifesto written by Mercer, which he had allegedly given to one of the victims on a flash drive after calling him “a lucky one.” Police have yet to release the full contents of the drive.
Umpqua Community College reopened its doors on Monday, but classes won’t resume for another week according to Vanessa Baker, chairman of the board of trustees for the school.
How we know it
On that Thursday, the details came in fast.
After reports of the shooting began to flood in, different media outlets scrambled to release the numbers. The AP named between eight and 10 dead while Reuters marked the number dead at 15. All outlets reported somewhere near 20 people wounded.
After the flurry of initial coverage calmed, the numbers became more consistent — only 10 died that day. The reports of police and survivors began to fall in line and a clearer picture of what happened emerged.
It should be noted that while many survivors claimed Mercer targeted Christians, at least one person has come out saying that it did not seem as though he was deliberately targeting based solely on religion, according to the AP.
At the first news conference, officials were especially reluctant to identify the shooter.
“Let me be very clear,” said Douglas County sheriff Doug Hanlin. “I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act. Media will get the name confirmed in time, but you will never hear me mention his name.”
However, in an inevitable bout of irony, numerous media outlets began quoting anonymous federal sources with the name of the killer only minutes after Hanlin’s statement. The name, Mercer’s name, was later confirmed by local authorities.
What we don’t know
What action, if any, will be taken up in the public policy arena remains unclear. In his speech to the press directly following the tragedy, president Obama expressed frustration that America has become “numb” to mass shootings.
“As I said a few months ago, and I said just a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Obama said. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.”
Obama did not introduce a specific policy fix, instead calling on the American people to make 2016 and the election cycles following it single issue. He implored voters to vote out those politicians who would rather listen to the gun lobby than constituents.
The Obama Administration failed to pass gun-control efforts through Congress in 2012, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The failure has been attributed largely to the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association. The NRA’s president, Wayne LaPierre, was quoted after the shooting saying “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
In light of the 2012 legislative failure, the future of American gun policy remains decidedly murky.
Jacob Solis can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.