(Photo featured on Page 1 is published courtesy of Randy Rasmussen, photographer for The Oregonian/Oregon Life)
By JOHN FORTMEYER
ROSEBURG — Several weeks have now passed since the nation’s — and perhaps much of the world’s — attention focused on this Southern Oregon city. But even yet it is a challenge to fully grasp what took place here Thursday, Oct. 1.
For it was on that date that not only did 10 people die from gun violence, but it is clear that several of them were targeted — and were martyred — specifically because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
It happened not just in America.
But right here in the Northwest.
Although there are still many “whys” that may never be answered in this lifetime, the basic facts of the horrific tragedy are now well known. Christopher Harper-Mercer, a 26-year-old student at Umpqua Community College, fatally shot a faculty member and eight students in a classroom. Nine other students were injured. Roseburg police detectives responding to the incident engaged Harper-Mercer in a brief shootout. After being wounded, the shooter shot himself dead.
The mass shooting was the deadliest in Oregon’s modern history.
Harper-Mercer first shot the assistant English professor at point-blank range. He reportedly asked two students for their religion, shooting them after they gave him a response. Other witnesses said he asked if students were Christians, telling those who replied in the affirmative that they would go to heaven as he shot them. Some students were shot multiple times; one woman was struck several times in the stomach while trying to close a classroom door. One witness said he made a woman beg for her life before shooting her, shot another woman when she tried to reason with him, and shot a third woman in the leg after she tried to defend herself with a desk. One victim was killed while trying to climb back into a wheelchair at his orders.
Todd Starnes of Fox News reported afterward that David Jaques, publisher of the Roseburg Beacon newspaper, said he received a text message from a student who was inside the classroom.
The message stated that Harper-Mercer was lining people up and asking if they were Christians. If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no or didn’t answer, they were shot in the leg.
“Christians were martyred for their faith — on American soil — a fact mostly ignored by most of the mainstream media and the White House,” wrote Starnes.”The New York Times only mentioned that the gunman inquired about people’s ‘religions’ and one cable television news channel opined that the shooter’s motive was unclear.”
Starnes then wrote a comment that likely would resonate in the hearts of millions of Christians:
“I cannot even begin to imagine the courage it took for our fellow believers to stand — knowing that to do so — would require the ultimate sacrifice. But their families can take comfort in knowing that after they took their last breath on Earth, they took their first breath in Heaven.”
Michael Brown, a conservative Christian columnist, said secular media, for the most part, focused after the shooting more on gun laws than on the shooter’s apparent anti-Christian motivation.
“But when Christians are targeted and murdered on a campus in Oregon, much of the nation yawns,” Brown noted.
“When it comes to the Oregon massacre, we still don’t know all the facts and, at this point, only God knows the motivation of the murderer,” Brown added. “But we do know there is a growing national climate of extreme hostility towards Christianity, and from professional news media to popular social media, it is open season on committed followers of Jesus.”
But both regionally and nationally, the Christian community recognized the enormous implications of what happened.
It even touched the current U.S. presidential race. In tribute to the courage shown by those who stood for Christ in Roseburg, candidate Ben Carson wrote on Twitter the simple message, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The message was “retweeted” thousands of times and garnered well over 1 million “likes” on Facebook.
The congregation of Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist Church mourned the loss of one of their own, 44-year-old Sarena Moore, in the shooting. According to the Oregon Adventist Conference, one of Moore’s last Facebook posts was her desire to stand up for Jesus and her faith. At New Beginnings Church of God in Roseburg, Pastor Randy Scroggins was near tears Oct. 4 as he told his congregation how his 18-year-old daughter, Lacey, escaped death in the classroom and how one of the nine students killed, Treven Anspach, likely saved her life.
As reported by ABC News, Lacey said that after Harper-Mercer, brandishing a gun, told the class to get down on the floor, he then started questioning her classmates one by one before he shot them, While on the floor, she soon heard a shot so close to her head that her ears were ringing. She realized that the boy next to her, Anspach, had been shot and he was bleeding. Anspach started rolling toward her and his body moved over her hers.
With Anspach lying atop her, Lacey didn’t move when Harper-Mercer told her to get up. The gunman asked a woman nearby if Lacey was alive, and when the woman said she didn’t know, he walked over Lacey and shot another student, Scroggins said.
Tualatin Christian author Jeanette Chaffee, who survived a terrorist bombing on a TWA jet in 1986 and understands what recovery from trauma involves, felt led to travel to Roseburg Oct. 5 and make herself available for prayer and counseling to those desiring it. Chaffee was able in advance to contact the college’s president, who expressed appreciation for Chaffee’s offer.
“I felt the Lord instructed me to go to Roseburg and help whatever way I could,” she said. “I have to admit that it was with some nervousness that I headed 180 miles south. I wanted to see what was going on when I arrived. The first thing I noticed was that signs giving gratitude to the responders and prayers appeared everywhere, from McDonalds to The Lions Club.”
At the bottom of the street leading up to the campus, Chaffee saw a makeshift memorial along a metal fence. Toy animals, large and tiny cards, bundles of flowers, posters and an American flag were stuffed in the fence. In the middle was a large banner with the shape of Oregon. It read: “Pray for Roseburg.” A 5-foot wood cross stood at one end.
That’s when Chaffee was struck by the sight of two posters. One read: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, Ye soldiers of the cross. They stood up.” The other: “I’m Christian.”
At the memorial, Chaffee spoke and prayed with people stopping by.
“Grief was all around me, and so much so that at times I was weighed down with heartache,” Chaffee said.
She also headed to Mercy Medical Center in hopes of praying with Chris Mintz, the ex-soldier who charged the gunman and was shot seven times, but survived and is today praised nationally as a hero. Mintz wasn’t seeing anyone, but Chaffee spoke with his nurse and passed on the message that the world was praying for him.
Chaffee said the people of Roseburg were grateful for such caring support from outside the city. “Your prayers for Roseburg make a difference,” she said. “They are greatly appreciated.”
Chaffee added that she was pleased to see the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team on scene. In coordination with area churches and government authorities, crisis-trained chaplains with the Graham team were quickly dispatched to Roseburg.
Also on scene were staff and volunteers from The Salvation Army in Roseburg, who served 120 meals to first responders and remained for several days.
Nationally, many Christian leaders spoke about the Roseburg tragedy. Among them was author and evangelist Alex McFarland, who said the shooting is a reminder of America’s dire need for God.
“Our nation needs to reacquaint itself with the God of our founders and with the Ten Commandments,” he said. “This is about good and evil and has nothing to do with gun control, This killer would have chosen any means to carry out his motive. The point is, without the God of the Bible, there is no hope. With Christ, we have everything we will ever need – hope, purpose, a clear compass of right and wrong.”
Evangelist Franklin Graham echoed similar thoughts. In a cover story titled “Would You Stand?” in the November issue of Decision magazine, Graham wrote:
“Here’s what I know we can do. Like the courageous men and women at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, we can stand up for our faih by unashamedly confessing Jesus Christ. They knew they would be killed when they stood and faced the gunmen, and they stood anyway.”