ROSEBURG, Ore. (BP) — A 26-year-old man who killed nine and injured perhaps nine others at an Oregon community college reportedly targeted Christians in the attack, said a Southern Baptist pastor whose granddaughter was shot and survived.
“The shooter asked a question, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And if they said yes, he said, ‘Good, because you’re going to see God in a second,’ and he shot them. My granddaughter hid and got a bullet through the leg,” Howard A. Johnson, founding pastor of Bethany Bible Fellowship (SBC) in Roseburg, told Baptist Press. “That’s pretty traumatic.”
Johnson chose not to name his granddaughter to protect her privacy, and in deference to families whose children and relatives died in the massacre. Nine students and the shooter are confirmed dead. Between seven and nine were reportedly injured.
“She did not die, but she was shot,” he said. “There are 10 others’ parents and family [in the area] whose children were killed. My prayers and strength go to them because they won’t be able to look their children in the eye and say what happened, as I was able to do with my granddaughter.”
“I was able to talk to her. She is the only child of my number three son who died at age 31. And she was three at the time. She’s now 19 and attending college, and you’d think she’d be at a safe environment, but that didn’t happen.”
A second granddaughter is a nurse at the hospital where his injured granddaughter was treated for her wound, Johnson said, and was able to attend to the injured student in the surgical room.
News reports identified the shooter as Chris Harper Mercer, who entered a building at Umpqua Community College (UCC) yesterday (Oct. 1) around 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time and began shooting.
The shooter brought six guns and a vest with metal plates to the campus, the Associated Press reported. A motive for the massacre has not been determined.
Steve Schenewerk, pastor of Community Baptist Church in nearby Winston, texted Scripture and prayers to a member of his church, a UCC staff member, who was in a building under lockdown on the campus during the shooting, he told BP.
“She texted several times her fear, the fear [experienced by] her coworkers, and I was able to share some Scripture with her via text and let her family know she was Okay,” he said. “She wasn’t in the building where the shooting happened, but of course they lockdown every building. And then one of our other families, their son works on campus. There was some concern obviously.”
The community is described as close knit.
“It’s a small community,” Schenewerk said. “I can’t imagine many families … in the area don’t have some intimate connection with someone who was on campus during the shooting.”
After killing the shooter, law enforcement officials cleared the crime scene by transporting school employees and students to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where Schenewerk volunteered as a grief counselor, he said.
“There were multiple … pastors and other Christians from various agencies at the fairgrounds. All of them shared a sense of shock that that kind of targeting would go on here,” Schenewerk said. “Douglas County is very conservative politically, very economically depressed … and the Christians are just stunned that that kind of targeting could happen.
“That’s the kind of thing you read about in the Middle East obviously, in Africa and other parts of the world, the Muslim countries; it’s not the kind of thing you would expect to happen in Douglas County,” Schenewerk said. “Stunned is a good word to express that.”
Christians have been involved in outreach efforts throughout the tragedy, Schenewerk said.
“The manager of the fairgrounds is a believer and he opened up every building we needed in order to accommodate the hundreds of people that gathered,” he said. “The Christian community was really on top of this from the beginning.”
Many Christians gathered at a prayer vigil at a community park Oct. 1, and Schenewerk and other pastors prayed with community members on a Christian radio station after the tragedy.
Johnson also noted the response from the Christian community, adding that three members of his congregation are volunteering as grief counselors with a crisis intervention team in response to the massacre.
“I would think that the Christian community has gone above and beyond,” Johnson said. “The community is close knit in that if you’re not related to somebody, you’re a good friend to somebody. … So you’re pretty much going to feel this incident and the tragedy for some time. And of course the American viewpoint is it will never happen in my community, until it does.
“We always think it’s going to happen someplace else.”
Bruce Sloan, Region 4 teamleader and church health strategist with the Northwest Baptist Convention, said Southern Baptist chaplains may be deployed.
“Our response has been to pray for the churches on the ground,” he said. Sloan has encouraged churches to pray for the community.