Oregon college gunman committed suicide, official says

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Christopher Harper-Mercer killed himself after he fatally shot nine people and wounded nine others during an attack inside a classroom at Umpqua Community College, officials said on Saturday.

During an afternoon news briefing, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said the medical examiner had determined that Harper-Mercer’s death was a suicide.

Officials had originally said  the gunman died during an exchange of gun fire with responding officers. 

Two days after the attack on the college, among the most deadly mass shootings at a school in two decades, this rural town appeared more focused on mourning the nine killed and praying for the recovery of the nine wounded in a violent classroom rampage, than details about the shooter.

“This community will do quite well and pull together,” Mayor Larry Rich said Saturday. “For our community, this is a time to grieve.”

And grieve the town, region and the nation has, as details emerged about the gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, who has been described by law enforcement sources as a hate-filled man who struggled with mental health issues.

FULL COVERAGE: Oregon community college shooting

Harper-Mercer opened fired Thursday morning in his English class heavily armed and wearing a flak jacket, reportedly asking students whether they were Christian before he shot them. He died in an exchange of gunfire with authorities.

The dead range from an 18-year-old student to the 67-year-old teacher, all gathered for their Writing 115 class. Like in any community college, the group was a mix of people in different stages of life, but united in their desire to pick up new skills.

Officials formally identified the dead in a somber news conference Friday afternoon, and Saturday the town was quiet, dotted with banners, handmade signs and commercial marquees incorporating the word "pray": 

"Our heartfelt sympathy for everyone at UCC. You are all in our prayers," read a Coca-Cola marquee.

"Praying for our UCC families," said a Speedy Lube sign.

Families of the dead have asked for privacy, but offered statements about their loved ones.

Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59, formerly of Orange County, and her 18-year-old daughter were both at the school during the violence. The daughter was unhurt but the mother died in the classroom.

“She was a very energetic, very kind, kind soul,” her former husband, Eric, a vineyard manager, who remained close with the woman, wrote on his Facebook page. “Kim was an exceptional woman.”

The father of 19-year-old Lucero Alcaraz fought back tears and anger outside of his Roseburg home as he talked about her.

“There is no sense in talking about it. It’s in vain,” Ezequiel Alcaraz said in Spanish to the Associated Press. “What’s the point in showing our pain?”

Lucero’s sister, Maria Leticia Alcaraz, posted to Facebook that her sister was missing, then broke the news that she was dead.

“Never in a million years would I have imagined going through something like this. She was my best friend and my sister,” she wrote. “I can’t begin to describe how I feel. I’m full of anger, pain, sadness, regret that I didn’t get the chance to see her or prevent this from happening.”

College life was just beginning for Jason Johnson, who had started his first week at the school, his mother told NBC News on Friday.

Tonja Johnson Engel said that her son had struggled with drug abuse, but decided to continue his education after completing a six-month rehab program with the Salvation Army in Portland.

“The other day, he looked at me and hugged me and said, ‘Mom, how long have you been waiting for one of your kids to go to college?’ And I said, ‘Oh, about 20 years,”’ Engel said.

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In a statement issued Friday at the news conference, the family of Quinn Glen Cooper of Roseburg, 18, mourned the “funny, sweet, compassionate and such a wonderful loving person.”

“He always stood up for people,” the statement notes. Cooper was going to take his brown belt test next week, and loved dancing and voice acting.

“Our lives are shattered beyond repair,” his family said.

Law enforcement officials visibly struggled with their words as they read the statements.

Lucas Eibel of Roseburg, 18, “was as an amazing soccer player,” his family wrote, noting his academic achievements, including graduating Roseburg High School with high academic marks, receiving a Ford Family Foundation scholarship, and receiving an Umpqua Community College scholars award.

The teacher of the class was Lawrence Levine of Glide, 67. He was also a member of Steamboaters, a fly fishing and conservation group. Dale Greenley, a fellow member of the group, told reporters that Levine was an avid fisherman who used to be a guide on the north Umpqua River.

“He was kind of quiet and laid back, he didn’t say much,” Greenley said. “But he was a good writer.”

Sarena Dawn Moore of Myrtle Creek, 44, was a member of Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had a post on its Facebook page mourning her death.

In a written statement read by officials, the family of Treven Taylor Anspach of Sutherlin, 20, said he was “one of the most positive young men, always looking for the best in life.”

NEWSLETTER: Get the day’s top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

Rebecka Ann Carnes of Myrtle Creek, 18, was the great-granddaughter of the first cousin of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, (D-Oregon). The senator was among a group of top officials who called on the community to pull together. He described the pain of learning that the shooting had touched so close to home. “Rebecka’s beautiful spirit will be enormously missed,” he stated.

The mourning has spread from this town of 22,000 throughout the region. To honor the dead and wounded, local officials have refused to utter the name of the assailant because they refuse to glorify the crime that has shattered their town. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” Sheriff John Hanlin has said at several news conferences since the attack.

Churches have opened their doors for times of prayer and counseling. For many, the gatherings have offered a peaceful way to attempt to understand the deeper reasons behind an incomprehensible act.

“People do know people that were involved,” Andrew Madaus told KING television station. “Why does this stuff happen?”

Officials continued Saturday to investigate the gunman and his possible motives.

In a hate-filled note found at the crime scene, he said that he “felt the world was against him,” law enforcement officials told NBC News. Two officials familiar with the contents of the note say Harper-Mercer wrote that he would be “welcomed in Hell and embraced by the devil.”

He wrote that he was “in a bad way,” one official said. “He was depressed, sullen.” The officials said Harper-Mercer lamented the fact that he did not have a girlfriend.

“He said he had no life,” another official said, adding: “He felt the world was against him.”

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