Monday 22 January 2018

Oregon shooting: Hate-filled and well-armed

As the gunman readied himself to kill more students, he was tackled by one brave man, writes Emily Flitter

EMPATHY IN ACTION: People take part in candlelight vigil following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon
EMPATHY IN ACTION: People take part in candlelight vigil following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon
The heroic Chris Mintz now recovering in hospital
Slain gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer

Emily Flitter

When the gunshots rang out at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, some people mistook them for falling books. But Army veteran Chris Mintz quickly recognised the threat.

Instinct made him run to the door of the classroom to shield his fellow pupils from the gunman's onslaught.

He was shot seven times protecting them - in the back, abdomen, hands and hip by Chris Harper-Mercer, the half-British gunman.

Yesterday his former girlfriend, Jayme Skinner, 34, said he had made their son proud and had acted out of fatherly instinct.

As Mr Mintz, 30, a former marine who served in Iraq and was in his second year studying to become a fitness trainer, lay wounded on the ground, he begged the gunman: "Don't shoot me - it's my son's sixth birthday today."

"I'm absolutely not surprised he got involved," said Miss Skinner. "It's who he is." She said that as soon as a friend called to say there was a shooting, and Mr Mintz did not answer his phone, she knew he would be in the thick of it. She was by his side as he came round from nine hours of surgery.

"He's tough. He's going to be OK."

The gunman, 26-year-old Harper-Mercer, an IRA- and Nazi-obsessed loner, had had a month-long stint in the Army in 2008 and a preoccupation with weapons dating back at least two years. He sought to register for training in 2012 or 2013 at Seven 4 Para, a private self-defence and law enforcement training academy in Torrance, California, but the instructor sent Harper-Mercer away.

It emerged yesterday the killer was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and attended a high school for students with behavioural issues. In a note written before the shooting, he said he would be "welcomed in Hell and embraced by the devil" and described being depressed, and lamented the fact he had no girlfriend.

And on Thursday morning he arrived at the school where he was a theatre production student and killed eight pupils and a teacher. According to survivors, he stormed into the classroom of his writing class to shoot the professor at point-blank range, then picked off other victims as he questioned each about their religion and whether they were Christians.

The gunman later turned his guns on himself when police arrived on the scene.

Among the victims was Jason Johnson, 33 - "proud to be a Christian", his family said. Quinn Glen Cooper, 18, loved dancing and acting, and at school for his fourth day. Another, 18-year-old Lucas Eibel, a quadruplet, was also killed.

Kim Dietz, 72, was the oldest victim of the tragedy. Divorced, with one daughter, she was in a lecture when Harper-Mercer burst in.

The Roseburg shooting ranks as the deadliest bout of gun violence since September 2013, when a former US Navy reservist killed 12 people.

The latest school shooting has resurrected the debate on gun control in America, where there have been nearly 300 mass shootings this year alone.

Yet none of the families in the deeply Republican rural town of Roseburg used their statements to call for gun control.

Neither did the governor. "Those are conversations for the days ahead," said Kate Brown, the Democrat governor of Oregon - a Democrat state, with strongly Republican rural areas. Indeed, John Hanlin, sheriff of Douglas County, was one of hundreds of sheriffs around the country to write to Joe Biden, the vice president, after Sandy Hook saying: "Gun control is not the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings."

Behind the counter of his vast gun emporium, Waldron's Outdoor Sports, beneath a giant stuffed bear, owner Tom felt that was quite right. "It's idiotic to talk about banning guns," he said. "There are way more deaths from cars but we don't try to outlaw them.

"Look at China - they use knives to kill dozens of people. There will always be madmen, and the answer is to have more guns to keep us safe."

Harper-Mercer had 13 legally held guns - six on him when he died, and seven at the flower-filled flat he shared with his mother a short distance away

"9/11 changed America in many ways, but our love of guns and hunting runs deep," said Tom - adding that Harper-Mercer did not buy the guns from him. Walmart is the biggest retailer of guns in America, he said, and handguns can be picked up for as little as $300, provided you have proof of residency and a federal background check. "The problem is not lawful gun owners. And it's terribly sad. But it's the price of our freedom."

Back on the veranda of her clapboard bungalow, at the foot of the Callahans, Miss Skinner - despite Mr Mintz's terrible injuries - agreed. "You wouldn't take the antlers from the antelope to stop it being eaten by the lion."

The killer in America's worst mass shooting for two years had access to 13 firearms, all bought legally, it emerged yesterday. Law enforcement officials said they found seven handguns, five rifles and a shotgun all linked to the gunman. He took six weapons to the Roseberg, Oregon college where he killed nine people and injured at least nine more. A further seven guns were found at his home.

Details of the lethal armoury were made public as a political row over gun control escalated. President Barack Obama said he would look for new ways to enforce the existing regulations to keep guns away from criminals. He said: "I'm going to talk about this on a regular basis. I will politicise it, because our inaction is a political decision that we are making. I hope and pray that I don't have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences.

"Based on my experiences as president I can't guarantee that - and that's a terrible thing to say."

The Oregon incident was the 994th mass shooting since Mr Obama's second term began in November 2012 and the 294th incident this year, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker website.

However some Republican presidential candidates hit back, citing the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Jeb Bush said more legislation was not the right answer, adding: "Stuff happens. There's always a crisis".

Mr Obama responded by saying: "I think the American people should hear that," adding that they "can decide whether or not they consider that 'stuff happening'."

Donald Trump also dismissed stricter controls, saying: "Gun laws have nothing to do with this. This isn't guns, this is really about mental illness."

Hillary Clinton said she would take on the powerful National Rifle Association to introduce "new, effective gun control measures".

Celine Nunez, an agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revealed the extent of the killer's weapons collection and said he had worn a bulletproof vest.

"We were able to recover a flak jacket lying next to the rifle at the school. The jacket had steel plates," she said. Five rifle magazines were also recovered at the scene, and more ammunition was found at his apartment.


Sunday Independent

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