- Photo: Amanda Lucier
THE INVITED SPEAKERS had finished with their brief remarks, the drumming and bagpiping had died down, but hundreds of people clutching candles and embracing one another in Roseburg's sprawling Stewart Park remained, waiting.
Over an improvised PA system, a live mic caught snatches of a whispered conversation.
"No one's prayed yet," said one voice.
"Let's get a pastor down here," said another.
"I could do the Lord's Prayer," a third volunteered. Someone went to find a pastor.
It was a fitting testament to just how bewildered Roseburg found itself after the worst mass shooting in Oregon history: No one had thought to arrange for the assurances of faith on the night the little church-filled town needed them most.
You know the details by now. On Thursday, October 1, less than 10 hours before that vigil, a 26-year-old student at Umpqua Community College (UCC) walked into his freshman writing class packing an arsenal, then calmly murdered eight fellow classmates and the professor. After being wounded by Roseburg police, gunman Chris Harper-Mercer killed himself. Reports suggest he specifically spared one student, ordering the witness to give a package to authorities.
The tragedy received the response America's gotten used to giving mass shootings—40 similar to the Roseburg massacre in the last 15 years alone, according to Mother Jones. Unmarked trucks carrying federal agents streamed down I-5 to Roseburg, en route to help piece together details that look depressingly familiar.
President Barack Obama got on TV, again, to urge tighter gun controls that will be unpalatable in Washington, DC, though his speech wasn't the somber post-tragedy dirge that he's perfected. The president wasn't just sad; he was furious.
And, of course, media swarmed Roseburg. Portland journalists literally raced each other down the interstate, while national correspondents and makeup-caked television reporters secured the first flight to Eugene, quickly snatching up all the rooms at the Holiday Inn Express.
The circus was so complete that the most notable illumination at the Stewart Park candlelight vigil wasn't the candles; it was the high-powered lighting that news crews were using to make the scene presentable for viewers.
The Mercury was there, too—talking to victims' families, pressing for official details, and exploring Roseburg like everyone else. And while we can't claim to offer a definitive take on an event that still has so many unknowns—and for which Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin has largely refused to give a narrative—this is some of what the Mercury saw.