October 04, 2015 - 11:35 AM
ROSEBURG, Ore. - The gunman had already shot several students at close range when he stood inches from Lacey Scroggins and demanded she stand up.
It was only the fourth day of community college for the 18-year-old aspiring surgeon, and she was facing a test no education could prepare her for as she lay face down, her head tucked between her outstretched arms among dead and dying classmates.
Scroggins could hear someone gurgling and she felt the weight of fellow student Treven Anspach, 20, pressed against her body as his blood flowed into her clothing. Anspach would be among the dead.
She prayed and played dead, frozen to the floor. The killer stepped over her and shot someone else.
In a rampage lasting about 10 minutes, Christopher Harper-Mercer took nine lives Thursday morning in chilling fashion before killing himself as police officers closed in, placing the small town of Roseburg among settings infamous for inexplicable violence.
In addition to slain English professor Lawrence Levine, the dead and nine wounded were students young and old — some high school aged, others just beginning college and some starting over after a broken marriage, drug abuse or in hopes of a new career.
The rural Umpqua Community College on nearly 100 acres (40 acres) of pastureland along the North Umpqua River has about 3,200 students of all ages in this southwestern Oregon community, where the struggling timber industry is no longer seen as a path to the future. Its website said it offered "a peaceful, safe atmosphere."
The school term had just begun and Levine's 10 a.m. introductory composition class was under way when Mercer-Harper arrived on campus not with books, but with a small arsenal of weapons that included five handguns, a semi-automatic rifle, five magazines of ammunition and a flak jacket.
The young man was described as an awkward loner who had flunked out of Army basic training and lived with his mother. His social media profile suggested he was frustrated with organized religion and had studied mass shootings.
Those who knew him said they never expected what would happen next.
Scroggins heard a pop and noticed a hole in a classroom window, according to a detailed account provided by her father, Pastor Randy Scroggins.
Harper-Mercer, 26, who was enrolled in the class but had showed no signs of anger two days before, entered, fired several rounds from a handgun and told everyone to get on the floor.
Natalie Robbins was in another writing class nearby in Snyder Hall when she heard the first muffled gunshot that sounded more like a table had been overturned.
"We heard this first BOOM," Robbins said. "About 45 seconds later we hear boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Six shots. In the middle of that is when my instructor said, 'We have to get the hell out of here.'"
She and other classmates bolted out of the room toward the campus centre.
The first emergency call was made at 10:38 a.m., but those on campus were not immediately alerted.
Biology professor Ken Carloni was sitting in his office in the science building next door when a colleague entered with a startled groundskeeper who said there was a shooting.
They locked the building, gathered about 40 students from the surrounding classrooms and huddled with them in a small hallway with no outside-facing windows.
Back in Snyder Hall, Lacey Scroggins didn't see her teacher fall, but Anastasia Boylan did.
The first-year student told her family from the hospital that Levine was shot at point-blank range.
"She was crying and saying, 'Grandma, he killed my teacher! He killed my teacher! I saw it!" Janet Willis said, in recounting her granddaughter's story.
In the chaos that followed, Boylan found herself on the classroom floor, bleeding next to a friend who had also been shot.
Harper-Mercer began singling them out for slaughter, telling them to stand and state their religion.
Both Boylan and Scroggins said the gunman shot Christians in the head and wounded others, though there was at least one account that said he treated all religions with the same cold response.
"She hears the shooter in front say, 'You, in that orange shirt, stand up!'" Randy Scoggins said. "'What religion are you? Are you a Christian?' He says 'Yes.' She hears another pop, and she hears a thud as he drops to the ground."
Rand McGowan, who was shot in the hand, told his mother it didn't seem the shooter was deliberately targeting Christians.
"It was more so saying, 'You're going to be meeting your maker,' " Stephanie Salas said.
Boylan, 18, was in terrible pain when Harper-Mercer told her to stand. She had been shot through the spine and a bullet was lodged in her back.
"Hey blonde girl," he said, according to her grandmother. "Get up! I want to talk to you!"
Like Scroggins, she played dead and Mercer left her there.
He showed little mercy to others.
At one point, Chris Mintz, an Army veteran and student who helped evacuate his classroom nearby, sounded a fire alarm in another building and ran back to help. He was shot as he came through the classroom door.
Mintz asked the gunman to stop, saying it was his son's birthday. The gunman opened fire again, shooting Mintz but somehow missing vital organs. Mintz survived.
The gunman told a woman to beg for her life, Randy Scroggins said. She did and he shot her anyway.
One woman tried to show sympathy for the shooter, saying she was sorry for whatever happened to him.
"He said, 'I bet you are, but it's not enough.' And with that, he shot her," Randy Scroggins said as he began to cry.
Harper-Mercer herded people to the centre of the room and shot them as they were lying down.
Perhaps in a reference to the afterlife, he announced: "Don't anybody worry. We will all be together in just a moment," Scroggins said.
McGowan, 18, managed to stay alive by staying as still as possible and avoiding eye contact with the shooter, his mother recounted.
Then his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. His older brother was calling.
"Rand was like, 'Oh my goodness,' and said 'Thank you Lord! My phone was on vibrate,'" his mother, Salas, said. "If it had rang, he would have been picked out."
Harper-Mercer singled out a "lucky one" that he wouldn't kill and directed him to stand in the corner of the classroom to deliver something to law enforcement, according to Bonnie Schaan, the mother of Cheyeanne Fitzgerald, 16, who was seriously wounded and had a kidney removed.
Police said he left behind a manifesto. That may offer some insight into what propelled him, but at this point they have not released details of what it said.
Roseburg police officers arrived within six minutes of the first call for help. Two minutes later, they were in a shootout with Harper-Mercer.
Lacey Scroggins said she heard a burst of gunfire and then the shooter said one last thing.
"You got me. I've had enough. I quit," her father recounted.
And then it was silent.
Lacey Scroggins had thought it was her day to die, she told her father. But she was not hurt.
She got up and began tending the wounded, fashioning her scarf as a tourniquet on the limb of a bleeding woman.
Reporters Tami Abdollah, P. Solomon Banda, Manuel Valdes, Rachel La Corte in Portland, Gene Johnson in Seattle and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2015