St. Joseph Parish in Roseburg, Ore., hosted an emotional Mass the evening of Oct. 1 to remember 10 people who died in a shooting that morning at Umpqua Community College. Authorities in Roseburg, a small town in green rolling hills 180 miles south of Portland, report that nine others were wounded.
F.B.I. investigators say the gunman, identified as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, brought six legally purchased weapons to the small college. One student at the college and the sister of a second student told news organizations that Mercer told people in classrooms to stand up and declare if they were Christian. If they responded yes, he shot them in the head. If they answered no or gave some other answer, they were shot elsewhere. As law enforcement converged, Mercer apparently took his own life.
At a news conference in Roseburg on Oct. 2, after Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin refused to answer more questions, a foreign reporter called out, “Why does this keep happening in America?”
Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland rushed a letter to the people of Roseburg hours after the shooting. “I am saddened beyond words over the tragedy that has struck your local community,” he wrote. “We are one body in Christ, and when even one member suffers, we all suffer with them.”
“Why such shooting tragedies continue to happen is hard to understand,” he wrote. “Sadly, we live in the midst of a culture that does not value the dignity and sacredness of every human life as it once did.”
The archbishop told Catholics in Roseburg to “unite their suffering” with those directly affected and to pray for healing and strength for those who lost loved ones.
On the afternoon after the shooting, the Rev. José Manuel Campos García, pastor of St. Joseph’s, was out at the local hospital, ministering as he could to the families of the victims. The parish administrator, Pauline Schulze, could not say if any of the people gunned down were members of St. Joseph’s; but, she said, “Roseburg is a small community”—26,000 people. “People may not go to church here, but they are all part of our community.
“It has been a chaotic day here,” said Ms. Schulze. “Lots of people calling, wondering what they can do. This is a community that wants to come together to help.... I just told them to tell everybody about the prayer service tonight and to keep the families in their prayers.”
Responding for the 15th time during his two terms to a mass shooting incident, a visibly frustrated President Obama said, “There’s another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relieve their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families or their children.”
“It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun,” the president said, pointing out that the United States is the only advanced state where such incidents have become “routine.”
“I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these [gun] laws and to save lives and to let young people grow up,” Obama said, adding, “that will require a change of politics.”
Pax Christi USA said it was “a profoundly sad reality that gun violence...is now so commonplace that it is difficult to remember and recall all of the mass shootings which have taken place in our nation over the past few years.
“It is time that we shake off our collective lethargy and root ourselves in a deep, sustaining and holy anger which will fuel a movement to end this insanity once and for all.”