ROSEBURG, Oregon: A gunman went on a shooting rampage at a college in the US state of Oregon on Thursday, killing 10 people and wounding seven before he died in a shootout with police.
The shooter — identified by US media as Chris Harper Mercer, 26 — opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in rural Roseburg, then moved to other rooms methodically gunning down his victims, witnesses said.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said 10 people were killed and seven were injured, several critically.
Witnesses described scenes of terror and panic as the tragedy unfolded at the school located in a picturesque region of Oregon.
One man whose daughter was wounded told CNN that the gunman, who did not attend the school, ordered students to stand up if they were Christian and then shot them.
“They would stand up and he said ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second’,” Stacy Boylan told CNN, relaying his daughter Ana’s account.
He said his daughter, who survived by playing dead, told him the shooter burst into the classroom and first shot the professor point blank.
‘We have become numb’
A visibly angry President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for gun control in the wake of the shooting, blasting Congress for its failure to act in the face of such killings.
“Somehow this has become routine,” said the president. “We’ve become numb to this.”
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” he added.
“It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.”
Cassandra Welding, a student at Umpqua, said she heard 35 to 40 shots coming from an adjacent classroom and saw a fellow student get shot as she opened the door to check on the noise.
“Then we locked the doors, turned off the lights and . . . we were all pretty much in panic mode and called 911 (emergency services) and our parents and (said) ‘I love yous’ because we didn’t know what would happen, if those were our last words.”
Hanlin said police were alerted to the shooting at 10:38 am and rushed to the site where two officers cornered the gunman and exchanged fire with him. He was later confirmed dead.
Authorities said investigators were examining social media postings thought to belong to the shooter. Several reports said he might have shared his intentions online beforehand.
Other reports said police recovered three handguns and an assault rifle at the scene along with a cell phone that presumably belonged to the shooter who wore a bulletproof vest.
Hanlin confirmed that authorities had identified the gunman, but declined to release his name.
“You will never hear me mention his name,” Hanlin said. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.”
A candlelight vigil was held late Thursday for the victims in Roseburg, a close-knit logging community with many locals among the 3,300 students at the college.
Police meanwhile sealed off the gunman’s apartment in Winchester, located some five miles north of Roseburg, and interviewed neighbors and relative, CNN reported.
We all froze
Brady Winder, another student at Umpqua, said he was in class when suddenly he heard a loud pop coming from an adjoining classroom.
He said his teacher called out through the door to see if everything was OK and then further shots rang out.
“We all kind of froze and bolted out the door,” Winder said. “I didn’t really have any time to think. It was fight or flight.”
Douglas County fire marshal Ray Shoufler described Roseburg as a small town where many of the 21,000 residents know each other.
“Pretty much everybody knows everybody type scenario,” he said.
“So something like this affects many, many, many people.”
School shootings are a disturbing reality of American life and many facilities have reinforced security in recent years, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
Twenty students and six adults were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
On Wednesday, a student who got into an argument with the principal at a high school in South Dakota pulled a gun and shot the school official in the arm before he was tackled and subdued by staff.
There have been 142 school shootings in the United States since the Sandy Hook massacre, according to data compiled by Mass Shooting Tracker.