Angry President Obama Makes 15th Statement on Shootings Since Taking Office
The US is reeling from another school shooting, the 45th this year, after a 26-year-old gunman murdered as many as nine people and wounded seven more at a community college in Oregon before he was killed.
The gunman was named as Chris Harper Mercer, a 26-year-old man who lived near Umpqua college in the rural town of Roseburg. He is thought to have been born in England before moving to the US as a young boy.
Investigators were focusing on reports from survivors that Mercer told students to state their religion before he opened fire.
The police were also looking at reports that hours before the attack he posted messages on an internet chat site warning people to stay away from school. Investigators said they were attempting to trace people on the site who discouraged him while others urged him on. It does not appear anyone reported the messages to the authorities before the shooting.
CNN reported that four guns were recovered at the scene of the killings. Initial reports said 20 people were wounded alongside those who died although this number was later revised downwards.
It was not immediately known how many students were on campus at the time. The community college, which mostly provides adult education to students in their late 20s, has about 3,000 registered students but only a few hundred attend full-time.
The gunman’s father, Ian Mercer, said he was “just as shocked as everybody” at his son’s actions. Speaking 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 [reporters] 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.”
Hours after the killings, President Obama clearly agitated at making his 15th statement on shootings since taking office, said: “There’s been another mass shooting in America” and spoke of the country being numbed by the repeated massacres.
“As I said just a few months ago and I said a few months before that and each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It does nothing to prevent this carnage being inflicted some place in America, next week or a couple of months from now,” the president said. “Somehow this has become routine.”
Since Obama’s reelection in November 2012 there have been 993 mass shooting events in the United States, not including Umpqua. Almost 300 of them have occurred in 2o15.
Kortney Moore, 18, told the News Review in Roseburg she was in her writing class when a bullet came through a window and hit her teacher in the head. She said Mercer then ordered students to stand and state their religion before opening fire. Moore said she was left lying on the floor with people who were shot.
Other survivors spoke of not hearing a shot as he moved from room to room through the campus of 16 buildings with the classrooms in a horseshoe next to the Umpqua river. Marilyn Kittelman’s son was in the building next to the science block where the initial shooting occurred.
“He said there was no sound. There were some 30 shots and no sound. He was pretty surprised,” she told CNN.
Mercer was cornered in a hall by a police officer who reported exchanging shots with the man. “Suspect is down,” he told the 911 dispatcher. “He’s not breathing, is in Snyder hall.”
A couple minutes later, the officer told the dispatcher: “We’ve got multiple gunshot wounds. We’re going to need multiple ambulances on scene.”
Mercer had been living at an apartment complex in nearby Winchester. Yellow police tape surrounded the building on Thursday night.
A neighbour, Bronte Hart, said Mercer lived upstairs and would “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light”. She said a woman she believed to be Mercer’s mother also lived upstairs.
It was not clear whether Mercer had been a student at Umpqua college although a listing from a Noel Coward play that had been staged there had his name posted as an assistant with the production.
His stepsister, Carmen Nesnick, told CBS Los Angeles that he travelled to the US as a young boy. Other accounts report that Nesnick specified that Mercer was born in England.
At the Douglas County fairgrounds, families waited along with grief counsellors and a large international media contingent for students, who were being bused from the campus.
Heather Alvers, a UCC student, was waiting to give survivors free trips home. She was on her way to campus when police stopped her. Most of her friends were confirmed safe but, she said, “the community is devastated”.
Alvers said that rumours and confusion had taken the place of facts for most of the day, and “some people were still locked down on campus”. She had been here for hours, while “hundreds and hundreds” of evacuees came through. Like everyone else, all she could do was wait.
Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, spoke of her “profound dismay and heartbreak” at the killings. Douglas County commissioner Chris Boice learned of the shooting when one of his staffers “got a phone call from her daughter who was on campus, and the shooting was happening at that point”.
“I ran down the hall called the sheriff on his cellphone. He was en route to the incident,” said Boice. “We’re a tight-knit community and everybody knows everybody. We’re going to be heavily impacted by this and I can’t imagine what those families must be feeling right now.”
Exasperation from Obama
Obama blamed the failure to pass gun control measures after earlier mass killingsfor having to make yet another address to the nation after yet another tragedy. He expressed frustration that countries such as Britain and Australia have been able to pass legislation that largely prevents such tragedies.
“Right now I can imagine the press releases being cranked out. We need more guns, they’ll say. Fewer safety laws. Does anybody really believe that?”
The president called for news organisations to compare the number of Americans killed by terrorism over the past decade with the number who died in gun violence. He noted that the US spends trillions of dollars and has passed myriad laws to protect people from terrorism.
“Yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how to reduce potential gun deaths. How can that be?” he said.
Obama appealed to voters to elect politicians committed to strengthening gun control and to gun owners to ask themselves whether organisations such as the National Rifle Association, which pour large amounts of money into lobbying against restrictions, are really serving the interests of those who use weapons for sport and hunting.
The kind of opposition the president faces comes from county sheriff John Hanlin, who was at the scene of the killings and spoke movingly of the impact it would have on families he is close to. But in 2013 he wrote to the vice-president, Joe Biden, saying he would not enforce “unconstitutional” laws to restrict ownership.
“Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings. And actions against, or in disregard for our US Constitution and 2nd Amendment rights by the current administration would be irresponsible and an indisputable insult to the American people,” he wrote.
Guns can be carried openly in Oregon. The police in Portland sometimes get calls from alarmed citizens who spot a person with a semiautomatic weapon walking through the city only to be informed that is legal. The state issues permits to carry concealed weapons as a matter of routine but, unlike many states, requires a mental health check.
Gun laws were tightened earlier this year by requiring background checks on private gun sales to bring them in line with weapons sold through gun shops.
“We have an obligation to protect Oregonians from gun violence,” Brown saidbefore signing the legislation. “If we want to keep our kids, schools and communities safe, we must make it harder for dangerous people to get guns.”
There were immediate calls for strengthened gun control, including from the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by the billionaire former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, noted that the Umpqua college killings were the 45th school shooting this year in the US, and the 142nd school shooting since the attack at Sandy Hook elementary school, in Connecticut, nearly three years ago.
“America is the only developed country where when someone asks if you heard about that campus shooting, you have to clarify: ‘Which one?’ That is unacceptable,” said Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and an Everytown advocate. “Something has to change. We need to all come together for the Umpqua families today.”