ROSEBURG, Oregon — Shaken residents of an Oregon town reeling from a burst of gun violence that left 10 people dead on a college campus headed to church on Sunday still bewildered by the loss of life and the disturbing details of the massacre coming to light.
As new circumstances emerged surrounding the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in two years, authorities revealed the gunman took his own life after opening fire on fellow students in his writing class and exchanging shots with police.
Authorities originally had suggested the suspect in Thursday’s rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg had been shot dead by two officers who first confronted him.
According to survivors’ accounts, the gunman stormed into the classroom to shoot his professor at point-blank range, then began picking off cowering classmates one at a time as he questioned each about their religion and whether they were Christians.
On Saturday came an additional disclosure, from the mother of a teenage girl left badly wounded, that the gunman had first handed an envelope — presumably containing a message of some kind — to one of the male students in class whose life was spared.
“He [Christopher Harper-Mercer] told everybody else to go to the middle of the room and lay down,” Bonnie Schaan told reporters outside a local hospital. “He called the one guy, gave him the envelope and told him to go to the corner of the classroom because obviously he was going to be the one that was going to be telling the story.”
Schaan’s 16-year-old daughter, Cheyeanne Fitzgerald, survived the ordeal with a gunshot to her back, one of nine people wounded in the attack and one of three listed in critical condition.
Fitzgerald was struck just below her shoulder blade by a bullet that clipped her lung and lodged in her kidney, which had to be removed in surgery, her family said.
“She’s starting to really remember the events of what happened,” the teenager’s aunt, Colleen Fitzgerald, told a news conference on Saturday. “She was asked what her religion was and didn’t say anything.”
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin also revealed on Saturday that an eighth gun had been recovered from the apartment Harper-Mercer shared with his mother a short distance from Roseburg, a former timber town about 180 miles south of Portland. The gunman was previously known to have carried six firearms, ammunition and body armor with him to campus the day of the killings.
Authorities have revealed little of what they may know about his motives. Asked about media reports that he left behind racist writings, a Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation.
A day after the massacre, the 16 students who comprise the 8th grade at Umpqua Valley Christian School in Roseburg decided to donate to survivors and victims’ families the proceeds of a fundraiser originally planned to pay for a class trip to Hawaii.
The fundraiser on Saturday evening was a luau, a traditional Hawaiian party, with food cooked by a school mother who grew up in Maui. Tickets cost $12.
Isaac Guastaferro, 14, took a microphone from a classmate and led the school assembly in a prayer.
“Heavenly Father,” he said, “I pray for the families of the victims, that they will not grieve too much and that they will come to know you. I pray that out of this you will be glorified — somehow.”