By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
ROSEBURG, OREGON (ANS – October 4, 2015) — A darker picture has emerged of slain Umpqua Community College shooter Chris Harper-Mercer as a deeply troubled, anti-religion, anti-government recluse obsessed with guns.
The gunman who killed nine people in a shooting rampage at a college in the US state Oregon then killed himself as police arrived, officials have said.
At a news conference in Roseburg, they revealed that Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, was enrolled in the class where the shooting took place.
According to Laura Gunderson writing in The Oregonian/OregonLive (www.oregonlive.com), the U.S. Army discharged him just five weeks into basic training in 2008. Records indicate he graduated in 2009 from a high school catering to troubled and special-needs students.
“Multiple media sources reported Friday he left behind an angry note that is now in the hands of investigators,” she said.
The Los Angeles Times said Harper-Mercer’s note was several pages long and talked about his anger and depression.
Sofia Camarena of Long Beach, California, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that she used to date Harper-Mercer’s father. “I used to change Chris’ diapers when he was a baby,” she said, upset after learning that he was the shooter in Thursday’s massacre and was himself dead. “He was born with problems. He was hard to discipline. If you told him ‘no,’ he would scream like you had just hit him.”
Camarena said that she had heard Harper-Mercer’s mother was having “a hard time” with him and that he attended a special school.
Camarena said she last saw Harper-Mercer when he was 18 and she had asked him how he was doing. “He said he was doing good,” said Camarena, whose son went on to marry Harper-Mercer’s step-sister.
Laura Gunderson went on to say that there are a number of indications that Harper-Mercer had mental health or behavioral issues. His screen name on some social media sites was “lithium love.” Lithium is used as a psychiatric medication.
She said that Harper-Mercer graduated from The Switzer Learning Center in 2009, according to a graduation listing in The Daily Breeze newspaper. Switzer Center is a private, nonprofit school in Torrance, California, geared for special education students with a range of issues from learning disabilities, health problems and autism or Asperger’s Disorder, according to the school’s website.
“They take in students that are referred to them by the surrounding school districts,” said Thomas Buescher, former chairman of the Switzer board. Enrollment typically ranges between 90 and 100, Buescher said. Two-thirds come from a nontraditional household, like a group home or foster home, according to Buescher, who said a high proportion also come from low-income homes.
A neighbor told The New York Times that Harper-Mercer’s mother had told a neighbor, “My son is dealing with some mental issues,” and was intolerant of roaches that had infested the building.
Witnesses said Harper-Mercer singled out the religious during the shooting. He reportedly asked students and staff their religion and shot those who answered they were Christians.
The U.S. Army confirmed Friday it discharged Harper-Mercer just halfway through his 10 weeks of basic training in 2008. “A review of Army records indicate that Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer was in service at Ft. Jackson, S.C., from 5 November-11 December 2008 but discharged for failing to meet the minimum administrative standards to serve in the U.S. Army,” said Lt. Col. Ben Garrett.
Garrett declined to elaborate on what those “minimum administrative standards” were.
“Amid the dysfunction, there were also hints of normalcy. Harper-Mercer found a home of sorts at the Umpqua Community College Theater Arts Department,” state Laura Gunderson. “He worked as a set designer for the department’s spring musical. He took a theater class this summer, confirmed Dr. Rita Cavin, Umpqua Community College interim president, and was listed among the set crew for the department’s fall production of Blithe Spirit.
Rebecca Miles, a 20-year-old student and Roseburg native, worked with Harper-Harper on last spring’s production. “I painted and worked on the set with him,” said Miles, who declined to actually speak his name. “He was a little socially awkward. But he was nice, friendly.”
Harper-Mercer was born in the United Kingdom, and his stepsister Carmen Nesnick told CBS Los Angeles, that the family moved to the United States when he was very young. He grew up in the Torrance area. His parents, Ian Bernard Mercer and Laurel Margaret Harper, divorced in 2006.
Harper-Mercer’s family voiced shock and sadness, both about his death and the victims’ fate.
“In these acts of anger I don’t think you can find any one answer,” said Anntionet Day, Harper-Mercer’s stepsister in a written statement. “I don’t know why he targeted Christians. I really wish that we could have helped him before he felt the need to hurt so many people. I do not condone his actions, but he was my brother, I loved him and we ask that you let us grieve as well.”
Photo captions: 1) Chris Harper-Mercer. 2) The nine victims of the shooter. 3) He was said to be obsessed with the IRA and this picture was taken from one of his social media pages. 4) Body of a victim being removed from the scene of the massacre. 5) Dan Wooding.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books.
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