Oregon gunman posted pro-IRA images on social media
Chris Harper-Mercer who killed nine believed to be from UK; Obama calls for change to gun laws
The gunman who killed nine people and injured seven others at a community college in southwest Oregon in the US has been named as Chris Harper-Mercer and is believed to be originally from the UK.
Harper-Mercer, who was shot dead by police following the attack, is said to have been born in England before moving to the States as a young boy, according to reports in America.
The 26-year-old, whose social media MySpace profile featured content supporting the IRA, apparently demanded to know his victims’ religious beliefs before opening fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
Harper-Mercer was shot dead on Thursday in an exchange of gunfire with police in Snyder Hall at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, a former timber town some 420km south of Portland, shortly after 10.30am local time.
A MySpace account under Harper-Mercer’s name features a number of images of pro-IRA propaganda. The page also shows an image of Harper-Mercer holding a gun and smiling, while on a separate page is a short video entitled ‘You are now entering free Derry’.
Harper-Mercer’s family have described their shock following Thursday’s shootings in Oregon.
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 (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.”
Carmen Nesnick, Harper-Mercer’s step-sister, said he was born in the United Kingdom and travelled to the United States 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.”
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness expressed his condolences on Friday to the families of the victims of the school shootings in Oregon.
“I was shocked and saddened to hear that so many young people have been shot dead in a deranged attack, in what should have been a place of safety and learning,” said Mr McGuinness.
“I extend my condolences to all the families of the victims at this awful time of grief and mourning and wish those injured a full and speed recovery.”
The incident moved US President Barack Obama to call on Americans to help him change the country’s gun laws.
“We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction,” he said.
Police received a call about a gunman on the loose in the college at about 10.38am.
A spokeswoman in the sheriff’s office in Douglas County, where the college is located, said police units from multiple jurisdictions responded to the shootings.
Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County said they came across a male gunman in one of the buildings in the college and fired on the individual, killing the man.
Roseburg is a timber-producing community with 107,000 people in Douglas County.
Umpqua Community College is the only third-level educational institution in the area.
“It is a peaceful community,” said Sheriff Hanlin.“We have our share of crime like any small community. Certainly, this is a huge shock to the entire community to have this level of crime.”
One student, Kortney Moore (18), told local news outlet News Review Today that she was in a writing class when a single shot was fired through a window of the classroom. She said she saw her teacher get shot in the head, apparently after the gunman entered the room.
“Are you a Christian?”
According to survivors, the gunman at one point ordered cowering students to stand up and state their religion before shooting them one by one. Stacy Boylan, the father of an 18-year-old student who was wounded but survived by playing dead, told CNN his daughter recounted her professor being shot point blank as the assailant stormed into the classroom.
“He was able to stand there and start asking people one by one what their religion was,” Mr Boylan said, relating the ordeal as described by his daughter. “’Are you a Christian?’ he would ask them. ... ‘If you’re a Christian, stand up. Good. Because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,’ and he shot and killed them. And he kept going down the line doing this to people.”
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 OK.”
A clearly angry president Obama said: “I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in this circumstances, but based on my experience as president, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say.
“As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said. “It’s not enough.
“It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it doesn’t nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America next week, or a couple of months from now.”
He pointed to other countries – “Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours”– who he said have crafted laws that “almost eliminated” mass shootings.
“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine,” said Mr Obama. “We’ve become numb to this.”
The mass shooting is the latest incident of gun violence in the United States as the ready availability of firearms and the role of mental health is debated at a national level after each incident.
Nine people were murdered recently at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a gunman as they attended a Bible study class. Five US military personnel were also killed by a gunman who opened fire at two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July.
Additional reporting from Agencies