US & Canada

Roseburg: The small town struggling to survive a massacre

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Media captionDon't take our guns, say some Roseburg residents

The senseless shooting of nine college students has rocked the rural community of Roseburg, puncturing its peaceful existence as it questions whether it could have done anything to prevent the tragedy, and reigniting the issue of US gun control.

Signs of sorrow and solidarity are visible everywhere in the usually reserved town - a place that is often passed by as people drive down Interstate 5 to Oregon's larger cities of Portland or Salem.

"Our thoughts are with families for loved ones lost," reads one. "Thank you to all first responders," says another. Across the road, the single word "prayers" sits alongside the slogan "UCC [Umpqua Community College] strong".

Image caption Signs in Roseburg reflect the town's grief

Practically everyone in this close-knit community of about 20,000 people knew someone who was at Umpqua Community College when 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer went on his savage shooting spree.

Supermarket cashier Latysha Nash, 23, says it's the type of town where she knows all her customers by name. "Everyone is hurting so much. I lost my 18-year-old cousin and my family friend Quinn Cooper. It's hard to be at work, I've broken down twice. But we have to stay strong. It's what my cousin would have wanted," she says.


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Kenny Freeman, 19, agrees. But he can't get the sound of screaming out of his head. "I'm terrified of going back to college. It's good to be busy working today because I spent all of yesterday thinking about it," he says.

Image caption Locals have been wearing green T-shirts to remember the victims

Standing in line to donate blood at Mercy Medical Centre, where many of the injured students were rushed after the attack, Tanya Talbot, 22, is angry that the gunman targeted people "who were trying to better themselves".

"My best friend's sister is still having surgery. She was shot 10 times but thankfully she's expected to be OK.

"I'm more mad than sad - why would someone go to such extreme measures to destroy so many lives? Why should people be scared? Teachers should be armed and prepared," she says.

Image caption Pastor Boyd Dahl: Most people don't see guns as a threat

Like with every mass shooting in America, the tragedy has brought the political issue of gun control to the fore.

Oregon became the eighth US state to require screening on nearly all gun sales in May after Democrat Governor Kate Brown signed a new bill, but Republicans vehemently opposed the measure, and Roseburg is a predominantly conservative community.

Pastor Boyd Dahl, 66, says most people grew up with guns and don't see them as threat. "I grew up getting a box of bullets every day and I'd shoot them.

"It's something fathers teach their sons. Good people would fight you if you said they were taking their gun, just like they would if it was the family silver," he says.

Image caption This woman was buying a gun for her husband's birthday

Five miles up the road, 73-year-old John Keller is being bought a hunting gun by his wife for his birthday. He's appalled by the UCC shooting, but strongly believes that people have the right to own a gun for their own protection.

Most of the community seems to agree, although some want gun owners to come under more scrutiny.

Image caption Gun owner John Keller: People have the right to own a gun for protection

"I'm devastated this happened in my hometown, I would never have expected it. We need more gun control laws, armed guards and metal detectors," says 24-year-old UCC student Sheyenne Smith.

About 47% of Americans say they favour stricter laws covering the sale of firearms, according to Gallop. That rose to 58% in the wake of the Sandy Hook primary school shootings in 2012, but Pew Research suggests shootings generally don't substantially affect citizens' views on gun control.

Image caption Sheyenne Smith: We need more gun control laws

Residents of Roseburg are hoping the horror that has sent shock waves through their community won't change the way the US sees their home either.

An anonymity campaign about the gunman has been driven by Douglas County Sheriff John Halin, who said: "You will never hear me say his name."

Nobody seems to know the gunman, and nobody wants to know him.

They would rather talk about their heroes - army veteran Chris Mintz, who was shot seven times after he stood up to the shooter, and Alek Skarlotos, the National Guard member who overpowered a heavily-armed gunman in northern France earlier this year, who is also from Roseburg.

It's a brave attempt at unity and strength as this town struggles to deal with its grief.

Image caption Green and white balloons were released at a football game on Friday
Image copyright Reuters
Image copyright AFP