The family of US school gunman Chris Harper-Mercer have described their shock after the 26-year-old killed at least nine people before being fatally shot.
The killer, who is said to have moved to America from the UK as a child and whose social media profiles featured content supporting the IRA, apparently demanded to know his victims’ religious beliefs before opening fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, yesterday.
The gunman’s father, named in reports as Ian Mercer, said he was “just as shocked as everybody” at his son’s actions.
Speaking with a distinctive English accent from his home in the US, he told reporters: “I’ve just been talking to the police and the FBI and all the details I have right now is what you guys have already.
“I can’t answer any questions right now, I don’t want to answer any questions right now. It’s been a devastating day, devastating for me and my family. Shocked is all I can say.”
Carmen Nesnick, Harper-Mercer’s step-sister, said he was born in the UK and travelled to the US as a young boy.
She added: “I’m actually still shaking and my mom is in there crying. I don’t know what to do.” Several people remain injured in hospital following the incident, the 45th school shooting in the US this year.
Authorities initially refused to name the gunman, and shed no light on his motive.
Witnesses described the moment Harper-Mercer stormed the school.
Kortney Moore, 18, said she was in a writing class when a shot came through the window and hit the teacher in the head.
The gunman then entered the Snyder Hall classroom and told people to get on the floor, she told the Roseburg News-Review newspaper. He told people to stand up and state their religion before opening fire.
The gunfire, shortly after 10.30am local time, sparked panic as students ran for safety and police and ambulances rushed to the scene.
Hannah Miles, 19, said she was in her writing class when her teacher got a call from security saying the school was in lockdown. She heard gunshots from a neighbouring classroom.
She said that huddled together in the locked classroom, the students and teacher heard footsteps outside and a man’s voice call out to them: “Come on out, come on out.” They remained quiet and did not open the door.
Police soon arrived and, after students were convinced that it was indeed officers, they opened the door.
“It was like a huge burden had been lifted,” she said.
“A huge sigh of relief that we were going to be kay.”
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said at least two officers acted heroically in the shootout, but it was not clear if the gunman was killed by authorities or whether he took his own life.
At a news conference, a visibly angry Hanlin said he would not name the shooter.
He said: “I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.
“It’s been a terrible day. Certainly this is a huge shock to our community.”
Bronte Hart, a neighbour in Harper-Mercer’s community of Winchester, said he would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light”. She said a woman she believed to be the gunman’s mother also lived upstairs and was “crying her eyes out”.
US president Barack Obama angrily said America had made a “political choice” to allow mass shootings like the one in Oregon to occur and blasted the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby group for blocking reform of US gun laws.
Appearing in the White House briefing room with a grim expression and a frustrated tone, Obama challenged US voters of all political stripes to hold their leaders accountable if they wanted to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
“This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America,” Obama said.
“We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
Since he took office, there have been more than a dozen mass shootings in America.
He and vice president Joe Biden made a concerted push for broad gun control reforms after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting of young children that shocked the country, but they were unsuccessful.
Obama has blamed the NRA for that failure, which he has called one of the biggest frustrations of his time in office.
Democratic and Republican politicians alike offered thoughts and prayers for the victims and family members of the Oregon massacre on Thursday, but a visibly upset Obama said that was not sufficient.
“We’ve become numb to this,” he said.
Law enforcement in Roseburg are asking people to focus not on the gunman, but on the victims and the heroes.
One such hero is a man, who used to live in Tacoma, who was shot multiple times while running at the gunman.
Chris Mintz, 30, is an army veteran who lived in Tacoma about 10 years ago while stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to Mintz’s brother.
He is a student at Umpqua Community College, taking classes to become a personal trainer, according to his brother.
Mintz told his family he heard gunshots from another classroom. And when the gunman moved to Mintz’s classroom, he was shot several times as he charged and tried to block a door to keep the shooter from coming in.
Then, he hit the floor, looked up at the gunman, and told him it was his son’s birthday, at which point the gunman shot two more times.
Somehow, Mintz survived seven gunshots, although he has two broken bones and a lot of rehabilitation ahead of him.
He very well may have saved others from being shot by taking multiple bullets himself.
Mintz is from North Carolina but moved to Oregon after getting out of the army. His brother told a news website Mintz had been stationed at both Fort Bragg and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
His family members in North Carolina, where the 30-year-old is from, said they weren’t surprised in the least that Mintz charged at the shooter.
One simply said: “Sounds like something he’d do.”
Thursday was Mintz’s six-year-old son’s birthday.
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