Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, reopened Monday to students and staff, but classes remained canceled through the week, Reuters reported. Students were welcomed back by grief counselors and comfort dogs after a mass shooting shook the community to its core last Thursday.
The campus reopened to let students and staff retrieve their vehicles and other belongings, and to help restore a sense of normalcy before classes were set to resume next Monday, school officials said. A mobile command post of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department remained in the parking lot, and a portion of an outdoor amphitheater on campus had been transformed into a shrine decorated with a banner displaying the message, “UCC Strong/We will prevail,” as well as flowers, candles, balloons and the names of the innocent lives taken Thursday. Snyder Hall, where the shooting unfolded, was still partially hidden behind a a barrier of chain-link fencing and black tarp.
“The anxiety of walking back on campus is very real," student Jared Norman said in a text message to Reuters, adding that his visit to the campus "begins the road to recovery."
Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, gunned down eight students and a professor, transforming the peaceful campus nestled in a bend in the North Umpqua River into a violent crime scene. Harper-Mercer had stormed his writing class in Snyder Hall, where he shot and killed his professor and several classmates. He reportedly ordered individuals to stand, asked them their religion and then started shooting them.
"He asked them, 'Are you Christian? Do you believe in God?'" said Tracy Heu, who was shot by Harper-Mercer but survived, CNN reported. "And then they said yes, and he said, 'Good, I'll send you to God. You'll be visiting God pretty soon,' and he shoots them."
Harper-Mercer had reportedly handed an envelope to one of the male students in class. The student, whose life was deliberately spared, turned over the envelope to authorities immediately afterward. The envelope contained a computer flash drive, CNN reported. The massacre ended with Harper-Mercer taking his own life.