‘Vi­o­lence will not have the last word’: Ore­gon pas­tor

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY GOSIA WOZNIACKA AND TAMI ABDOLLAH

A pas­tor whose daugh­ter sur­vived last week’s deadly rampage in a col­lege class­room told his con­gre­ga­tion on Sun­day that “vi­o­lence will not have the last word” in this south­ern Ore­gon tim­ber town.

More than 100 peo­ple gath­ered to hear pas­tor Randy Scrog­gins speak at New Begin­nings Church of God, in­clud­ing his daugh­ter 18-year-old Lacey, who sat in the front row and wiped away tears.

Scrog­gins said he’s been asked whether he can for­give Christo­pher Sean Harper-Mercer, who killed nine when he opened fire Thurs­day at Um­pqua Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

“Can I be hon­est? I don’t know. That’s the worst part of my job. I don’t know” said Scrog­gins, his voice crack­ing with emo­tion. “I don’t fo­cus on the man. I fo­cus on the evil that was in the man.”

Harper-Mercer killed him­self af­ter po­lice ar­rived on the scene.

Scrog­gins told those gath­ered at his church that his daugh­ter sur­vived be­cause she was ly­ing on the floor and par­tially cov­ered by the body of a fel­low stu­dent. The gun­man thought his daugh­ter was dead.

Scrog­gins said the com­mu­nity has “come to­gether with strength and courage and com­pas­sion. As if to say, ‘ we will not be de­fined by vi­o­lence’ ... Vi­o­lence will not have the last word in Rose­burg.”

Re­li­gious faith is an im­por­tant part of many peo­ple’s lives in this ru­ral part of Ore­gon, called by some “the Bi­ble Belt of Ore­gon.” In Rose­burg alone, there are dozens of churches, and Chris­tian bill­boards and crosses dot area highways and roads. Pas­tors have been at the fore­front of help­ing vic­tims’ fam­i­lies cope with a grief that can seem un­bear­able.

When pas­tor Jon Nut­ter got a text mes­sage last Thurs­day about the shoot­ing and re­al­ized how many had been killed or in­jured, he im­me­di­ately formed a prayer cir­cle at Star­bucks where he was sit­ting.

He then rushed to open his church in Rose­burg to any­one in need of coun­sel­ing, and drove to the Dou­glas County Fair­grounds, where of­fi­cials were re­unit­ing stu­dents with fam­ily mem­bers.

As bus af­ter bus rolled into the fair­grounds on Thurs­day car­ry­ing stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff, Nut­ter and about two dozen other lo­cal pas­tors held un­con­trol­lably cry­ing stu­dents, formed prayer cir­cles, lis­tened to eye­wit­nesses re­count the rampage that killed nine and watched tear­ful re­unions with par­ents and spouses.

The pas­tors also com­forted par­ents and spouses who waited for the last bus of stu­dents. Five hours af­ter the shoot­ing rampage, a dozen re­main­ing fam­ily mem­bers were ush­ered into a room at the fair­grounds, said Nut­ter, who was also in the room. Of­fi­cials no­ti­fied them there would be no more buses com­ing.

AP

Randy Scrog­gins, a pas­tor at New Begin­nings Church of God, cries as he talks about his daugh­ter Lacey Scrog­gins in Rose­burg, Ore­gon, Satur­day, Oct. 3. Scrog­gins says his daugh­ter Lacey was wounded by Chris Harper Mercer at Um­pqua Com­mu­nity Col­lege on Thurs­day.

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