ROSEBURG, Ore. — A disturbing and tragically familiar portrait of the nation’s latest mass shooter emerged Friday, as investigators and survivors described an angry, disconnected young man with a stockpile of guns and a possible grudge against organized religion.
Six of those guns were with Chris Harper Mercer, 26, when he died, along with nine victims, in Thursday’s rampage at Umpqua Community College. Authorities also found a steel-paneled flak jacket and five magazines of ammunition, a federal agent said at a news conference.
Seven more guns and additional ammunition were discovered at the apartment Mercer shared with his mother, said Celinez Nunez, assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. All 13 weapons were acquired legally, she said.
Witnesses to the bloodshed said the gunman questioned victims at gunpoint about their religious affiliations. Umpqua student Savannah Nardli said her friend Anastasia Boylan, who underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the spine, remembered the shooter asking her classmates, “Are you Christian?” before he shot them.
On Friday, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin read aloud the names and ages of the nine people who were fatally shot by Mercer, who was a student at Umpqua. Most were in the writing class where the shooting began, many of them teenagers barely out of high school. The oldest victim was their teacher, 67-year-old Lawrence Levine. One of the dead had recently completed drug rehab and gone back to college. Two others were relatives of emergency responders in the community.
Quinn Cooper, 18, was in his fourth day of college; he graduated from high school in June.
“I don’t know how we’re going to move forward with our lives without Quinn,” his family said in a statement read at the afternoon news conference. “Our lives have been shattered beyond repair.”
Less than 20 minutes after the shooting rampage began, Mercer died during an exchange of gunfire with police.
Relatives of one survivor, Chris Mintz, 30, a former Army infantryman, said he was shot three times as he tried to block the door and keep the gunman out of the classroom. Mintz’s aunt, Wanda Mintz, said her nephew was knocked to the floor by the blasts, looked up at the gunman as he burst into the classroom and tried to reason with him.
“He hit the ground and looked up at him and said, ‘It’s my son’s birthday — don’t do this,’ ” Wanda Mintz recounted, after speaking to his son’s mother, who has been by his side at the hospital.
“The guy shot him at least two more times.”
Mintz survived but suffered two broken legs among other wounds and will need extensive physical therapy, according to a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for his treatment. By Friday afternoon, more than $120,000 had been raised.
Two law enforcement officials said the shooter left behind an angry note, several pages long, describing his fury and depression.
Mercer appears to have been an active user of the popular piracy site KickassTorrents, where he posted chilling and sympathetic musings about Vester Flanagan, who shot and killed two journalists in August during a live newscast in Virginia, according to an FBI official with knowledge of the investigation.
“I have to say, anyone who knew him could have seen this coming. People like him have nothing left to live for, and the only thing left to do is lash out at a society that has abandoned them,” the post says.
“Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
Hundreds of books, movies and TV shows have also been uploaded to the site since April 30, 2013, under the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. Public records link that address to Mercer’s name and to an address in Torrance, Calif. A Chris Harper Mercer from California also registered an account under that e-mail address on Morgue Pen Pals, a site for people who “identify with any sort of alternative culture.”
The uploads include a number of documentaries about the Nazi regime and the Illuminati, a secret group alleged to be conspiring to create a new world order. They also include the BBC documentary “This World: Surviving Sandy Hook” and films titled “Spree Killers: Columbine Killers” and “Virginia Tech Massacre — Mass School Shooting.”
The poster described himself as an “involuntary virgin.”
A profile on the dating site Spiritual Passions, removed Friday afternoon, used Mercer’s name and picture, as well as the ironcross45 e-mail.
A Myspace page shows a photo believed to be Mercer sporting a crew cut and holding a rifle. The page includes posts extolling the Irish Republican Army.
At an afternoon news conference to announce the impending departure of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama again despaired over the nation’s gun safety laws, promising to raise the subject continually until voters defeat members of Congress who refuse to tighten them.
“We’ve got to change the politics of this,” Obama said. He urged Americans to become “single issue” voters until change occurs.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, however, said there isn’t always a useful government solution to events such as Thursday’s shooting.
“It’s very sad to see,” he said in Greenville, S.C. “But . . . look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something. And it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
Public records show Mercer was born in Britain and came to the United States as a young boy. In California, he attended the Switzer Learning Center, which describes itself as a setting for students with “moderate to severe learning disabilities, emotional issues, attention problems and behavioral disorders.”
Rick Rada, a former classmate, recalled Mercer as quiet, cheerful and calm.
“To me, Chris was just an ordinary guy, really. He was one of the silent types like me,” Rada told The Washington Post. “But we got along with our teachers. He opened up with the teachers, talked to them, had fun.”
Mercer later joined the Army, enlisting for one month in 2008, according to Pentagon records; he was discharged before finishing basic training.
Mercer moved to Oregon with his mother a year or two ago, according to public records. A “Chris Harper-Mercer” is listed as a production assistant on the Facebook page of a UCC fall theater production.
His father, Ian Harper, still lives in Los Angeles. He stepped outside his home there briefly Thursday night to say that he had spent the day speaking with law enforcement officials and couldn’t answer questions about his son or the shooting.
“Shocked is all I can say,” he told reporters. “It’s been a devastating day.”
Mercer lived with his mother in the Saddle Butte apartment complex in Winchester, just up the road from Roseburg. On Friday, the complex was under the watchful eye of a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy and an Oregon state trooper. The tan, three-level complex houses two units per level and has tennis courts out back. Several strollers and children’s bikes were left in the open near entryways.
Gloria Buhring, a neighbor, said police officers swarmed the area Thursday, blocking off much of the complex with police tape. Buhring said she didn’t know Mercer. But she said she returned home Wednesday to find a previously empty trash container “overflowing with stuff that looked like it had been moved from an apartment.”
“It looked like somebody had gotten rid of a lot of stuff and left,” she said.
Dewey and Bernstein reported from Washington. Eli Saslow in Roseburg, and Sari Horwitz, Mark Berman, Ellen Nakashima, Elahe Izadi, Darryl Fears, Julie Tate, Alice Crites, Abby Phillip, Brian Murphy and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.