Within an hour of the terrible news — another mass shooting, a college campus, motives and many details unknown — the Internet had already revised the Wikipedia page for Roseburg, Ore., right in the first paragraph.
Roseburg is a city in the U.S. state of Oregon. Located in the Umpqua River Valley in Southern Oregon, it is the county seat and most populous city of Douglas County. Founded in 1851, the population was 21,181 at the 2010 census, making it the principal city of the Roseburg, OR Micropolitan Statistical Area. Interstate 5 runs through the community along with the South Umpqua River. Traditionally a timber town, Roseburg is the home of Roseburg Forest Products. On the 1st October 2015, a local college in Roseburg was attacked by a gunman who is believed to have killed at least 10 people. Details are pending.
This is what happens to places most of us had never heard of until the moment they became the dateline to a national tragedy. Forever their identity changes. Columbine. Newtown. Aurora. Now a small town in Southern Oregon with a rural community college nearby. From the instant of the shooting on, this is what we know of them: A horrific thing happened there.
In this way, a mass shooting becomes a crime not just against people — the victims, their families, the classmates who knew them — but against a place. Because now "Roseburg" will be a synonym for why-we-need-gun-control or what's-wrong-with-America or how-is-this-happening-again? And those sentiments crowd out any other thing worth knowing about the place. Even Charleston, a storied city widely recognized long before its own rampage, can't shake its new association with a slaughter.
For these smaller places, it's sad that this is how we come to know them, those of us who aren't from there. And it's sad that people from there will always have to say, "yes, that Roseburg." It's sad that this is another thing mass shootings do to us, creating a geography of their own of points on a map inseparable from violence.
In the spirit of widening that picture, here are some other things the Internet tells us about Roseburg, Ore.: The strawberries they grow there are delicious. There is a rare bookstore in town called Lost & Bound Books that advertises its hours on its door as "open by chance or by appointment." People in town have been worried lately about what snowpacks dissolving from climate change could mean for their streams and rivers. And when the sun rises in the morning, it comes up over a national forest to the east of town, and it looks like this: