The UCC shooting: A personal response


Nigel Sumerlin

On Thursday, I grieved. I grieved for the loss of life in my hometown of Roseburg, Oregon, after a devastating massacre at Umpqua Community College. I grieved for the families who are struggling alongside their wounded loved ones. I grieved for those who would give anything to have their loved ones returned to them.

What I grieved most, though, was the loss of innocence.

Like any town, Roseburg has its own set of problems typical to the small American town. Meth addiction, domestic abuse and poverty to name a few. But we never thought something so sick could happen to us. We were immune to this kind of madness—until Thursday.

Although our community will unite to support the victims and the survivors in a way that only small towns can, Roseburg will never be the same. Ten lives were taken from us, and although people often die in our town, these deaths were different.

Even though many of us from this small community never knew the victims, we still mourn their deaths as if we did. What makes these deaths different is that unlike the death which comes from illness, accident or even individual homicide, the names of the deceased could have easily included our own family members. If the killer had walked through a door just a few feet away, he would have destroyed the nursing facility where my father teaches. Had he chosen a different time of day, a friend of mine could have been sitting in the classroom he attacked rather than exercising in the PE facility across campus.

As I watch the nation move on from its 15 minutes of sympathy and begin debating about gun control, it’s difficult for me to keep up. In my hometown, families are still weeping and crying out for their loved ones to return, the bloodstains have been freshly cleaned from the floor where men and women were shot in cold blood and more than 20,000 people are still in shock and disbelief.

Amidst the tragedy, however, I was amazed to find a story which bears hope. Army veteran Chris Mintz is reported to have heroically charged the shooter, receiving seven bullet wounds in the process. Fortunately, a nursing student kept him alive until he was transported to a hospital where he remains in a stable condition.

After being wounded, witnesses report hearing Mintz say, “It’s my son’s birthday, it’s my son’s birthday.”

Although many of the 141 school massacres since Sandy Hook have involved heroes such as Mintz, his story has picked up more momentum. Perhaps it is because Mintz lived, giving the story a much-needed ray of hope. Or perhaps it is because Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin refused to mention the shooter’s name, forcing the media to focus their attention elsewhere for a short time. For one reason or another, this hero who was willing to risk his life on his son’s sixth birthday has received the attention he deserves.

While talking to a close friend about the shooting, he asked me, “I don’t get it, why do you think there have been so many more shootings lately?” I had to stop and think about my answer because there is no easy explanation.

It’s unlikely that there has been a drastic increase in mental illness in the short time since we’ve started to see the number of shootings climb. And while gun control is a relevant topic, it’s unlikely that access to guns is to attribute for such a sharp increase in school shootings.

I found an answer in an article published by the Daily Beast that quotes a blog post by the shooter. In it, he wrote about the TV reporter who recently killed two coworkers on live television saying, “On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are ... A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

These are chilling words. This man was not unique, and his thought process isn’t either. Could this kind of media attention appeal to the mentally disturbed who are convinced the world has wronged them and must pay?

Is it possible that going out guns blazing with your name and face displayed for all to see could be exactly what potential killers find attractive? Contemporary media has created a quick track to fame for the rejected and disturbed. For those who feel no hope, all it takes to exit in perceived glory and honor is a loaded magazine.

As cliché as it may sound, tragedy can bring positive change, and this story represents a pivotal moment. This is the time to change how we respond to tragedy. We can choose to celebrate our hero and mourn together for those we lost, while allowing the murderer to descend into an obscurity which all cowards deserve.  

We have a killer who has, in part, attributed his actions to the posthumous fame he knew he would receive. Yet we also have a hero in Chris Mintz and a sheriff who understands how crucial it is to direct the attention of the media where it should go—to the victims and their families.

Nigel is a sophomore pursuing a double major in history and psychology.