ROSEBURG, Ore. — They entered their writing class on Thursday morning with their lives in full transition, a group of students beginning their fourth day of school. In came Cheyeanne Fitzgerald, 16, who had recently studied to pass her GED. “Now on to college!!!” she had texted to a friend. In came Anastasia Boylan, a teenager with a cross newly tattooed on her neck, and Jason Johnson, 33, who had completed a six-month drug rehab in Portland and then become the first in his family to enroll in college.
The students sat down at their desks in Room 15, where a 67-year-old professor who liked to share daily quotations began each new semester of his long career with the same message on his board: “Your future begins here.”
Umpqua Community College had long been a place of restarts and second chances, and Writing 115 was where so many of those new beginnings took hold.
Class began at 10 a.m. They talked about the importance of a strong topic sentence. Then, 38 minutes later, came dozens of gunshots, followed by the first call to 911.
“We’re going to need multiple ambulances,” the dispatcher said. “We have reports of a major incident.”
And so began the latest “major incident” in a bucolic American town, this time Roseburg, a place at once shocked by another mass shooting and also shaped by so many like it. Umpqua Community College already had instituted an emergency plan after a shooting at a nearby high school left 24 wounded in 1998, and refined those plans after a shooting at the local high school in 2006, and then considered adding an armed security guard to the college payroll last year because of a spate of mass shootings. “We know these happen,” the college president said.
When students in the building heard the first pops, they had little doubt about what they were hearing. “We’ve been doing all these drills and talking about big shootings every year of our lives,” said Sarah Cobb, 17, who was in the classroom next door to Writing 115. “It was kind of like: ‘Oh, wow, it’s happening. We trained for that.’ “
What she hadn’t trained for where the sounds — first one pop from next door, followed by shouting and screams, then a rapid succession of more pops. “Are you okay in there?” asked Cobb’s teacher, Amy Fair, shouting through the wall. When the only response was more screaming, she told her students to run.
In Writing 115, a 26-year-old shooter equipped with body armor and six firearms had shot and killed the professor, Larry Levine, 67, and then scattered bullets across the room. The students dove to the floor. Boylan, 18, took a phone call from her best friend, fellow UCC student Savannah Nardli. “It’s bad. It’s bad. I already got shot,” Boylan told her, and then she hung up the phone and tried to play dead.
Boylan later told her father that she heard the shooter approaching people and asking about their religion. “Are you Christian?” she remembered the shooter asking several of her classmates before he shot them. The cross on her neck was a matching tattoo she had gotten with her brother and father. It seemed to her like the shooter was targeting Christians. She stayed still on the floor and prayed.
Nearby, bleeding and also pretending to be dead, was Fitzgerald, the 16-year-old. She had been shot in the back, and the bullet had passed through her kidney. After the shooting she also talked to Nardli, her cousin, who recounted what Fitzgerald had said: “She said it was the weirdest experience of her life. She said she thought she was going to die, like her soul was leaving her body. She said she just kept hearing shooting and moaning and it seemed like everything was slow motion, like it was lasting forever.”
“Someone is shooting through the doors,” a police dispatcher reported at 10:38 a.m.
“We have one female shot,” the dispatcher said at 10:39 a.m.
“All units!” the dispatcher said at 10:41 a.m.
“Send as many ambulances as you can,” the dispatcher said at 10:43 a.m.
Meanwhile, according to his relatives, another UCC student decided to do something as the shooting continued to unfold. Chris Mintz, 30, a former Army infantryman, confronted the gunman at the classroom door. Mintz had also come to UCC hoping to rebound from a difficult stretch in his life — back from the Army with a wife and a new son, living in a trailer in his hometown of Randleman, North Carolina, where he couldn’t find work in the dying furniture factories. “They needed something new,” said his uncle, Jerry Brown. “He wanted a new place, a new career, something positive. So they moved out there to Oregon, and that’s just what he was doing.”
Mintz tried to block the gunman and the door, and he was shot three times. Once in the back. Once more in the leg. Once more on his hand. “Don’t do this,” Mintz told the shooter, according to his aunt, Wanda Mintz, but the shooter pointed at him and fired again and again. Mintz took a total of seven bullets, his girlfriend said.
“Officers are now engaging the shooter,” the dispatcher said at 10:44.
“Suspect is down,” a police officer on the scene told dispatch a few minutes later, and by the time first responders made it to Writing 115, the people in the room could barely make sense of what they saw: desks overturned, a window broken, blood on the walls, some injured and others dead.
Mintz was flown to the hospital where doctors told him he had two broken legs and would have learn to walk again.
Boylan was flown to the hospital, too, where she underwent surgery on her spine. Fitzgerald went through two operations to remove her kidney and drain her lungs.
“The lucky ones, basically,” Nardli said of them, because others, such as Jason Johnson, were still in the classroom at UCC. For some of the survivors, the school would once more become a place of restarts and second chances, but now the first week of classes ended with a new message posted near the entrance.
“Active crime scene,” it read.