Shock and disbelief haunt close-knit Roseburg in the shadow of gunman
In close- knit Roseburg, everyone knows someone affected by Thursday’s shooting, including the medical workers and psychologists working to support the victims and their families.
“I worked for 28 years at that college. I know a lot of people there,” said Dean Remick, a retired theater and speech instructor at Umpqua Community College.
The U.S. town, where 21,000 people live nestled between hills covered in early autumnal colors, was in shock at the carnage.
Remick, 62, met friends for coffee on Friday. He couldn’t help thinking it could have been him standing in front of the classroom when shooter Chris Harper Mercer broke in and shot nine people dead.
“I taught many times in that classroom,” he said with a confused smile.
“There’s a sense of pride about our community, and to think that we’re getting national recognition because someone shot people...” Remick, in a fleece jacket and baseball cap, trailed off.
A few meters away, Patrick James, a psychologist specializing in crisis management — whose girlfriend survived the ordeal at UCC — said Thursday was one worst of his life.
“I’ve trained all my life for something like this, but I never thought I’d live it,” said James, in a navy blue sport coat and long auburn ponytail.
He first heard of the shooting from his girlfriend, a student at the college who was barricaded in a classroom and asked him to call the police.
Tears and Hysteria
But he spent most of the day offering support to traumatized locals. “I can’t forget the blank stare of people who were waiting for news of their loved ones,” he said.
“There were some in tears, some in a state of shock or hysteria.”
Even students who were not on campus Thursday felt the shock. Alicia Alspaugh, 21, hurrying to work on Friday, said she had spent all day on the phone and social media trying to make sure her friends were safe.
She said she knew some of the victims: a young woman who was shot 10 times and remained in critical condition Friday, a 20-year-old father who died on the scene and another young man she had met several times.
At Roseburg’s Mercy Medical Center hospital, chief medical officer Jason Gray recounted with bloodshot eyes how members of his staff, some of whom are close to the victims, struggled to believe early reports of the shooting.
“Initial emotions are disbelief. And then it is focused on treating the patients. And then us and the staff go through the rest of the range of emotions, from disbelief, from anger, from sadness to resolution.
“It is still very raw for a lot of people,” Gray said.
Gray had never dealt with shooting victims aside from the occasional accident, despite living in a region where gun ownership is commonplace. Thursday was a particularly challenging day, he said.
Those challenges were complicated by personal ties. “One of our biggest challenges is supporting not only the patients and families, but our own caregivers,” Gray said.
Women mourn during a vigil at a Walmart parking lot in Roseburg, Oregon on Friday, Oct. 2.