, ROSEBURG, Oct 3 – The 26-year-old gunman behind America’s latest mass shooting hoarded an arsenal of weapons, authorities said, describing him as a loner with a gripe against religion.
As details about his personality emerged, the names of the nine people — five women and four men aged between 18 and 67 — who died in Thursday’s carnage at Umpqua Community College were released.
Though officials have yet to formally name him, the gunman, who died in a shootout with police, has been widely identified as Chris Harper Mercer, 26.
Officials said they had recovered 13 weapons belonging to him, including six at the school. A flak jacket and five rounds of ammunition were also recovered at the school after the rampage.
US media said the shooter suffered from mental illness and left behind a typed statement several pages long in which he indicated he felt lonely and was inspired by previous mass killings.
“He didn’t have a girlfriend and he was upset about that,” The New York Times quoted an unnamed senior law enforcement official as saying.
“He comes across thinking of himself as a loser,” the official told the paper.
“He did not like his lot in life, and it seemed like nothing was going right for him.”
Another official said the shooter, who lived with his mother, was obsessed with guns and religion and had leanings toward white supremacy.
– Withdrawn, anxious man –
Witnesses said he demanded to know his victims’ religion before shooting them execution-style.
“They would stand up and he said ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second’,” Stacy Boylan told CNN, relaying his daughter Ana’s account.
He said she was shot in the spine but survived by playing dead.
Officials said they were poring through online postings made by the gunman and examining his computer to try and piece together what set off the rampage.
CNN said he was enrolled at Umpqua but there was no confirmation by local officials.
The gunman’s neighbors described him as a withdrawn, anxious man who lived with his mother and kept to himself.
“He was not a friendly type of guy,” said Bronte Hart.
“He did not want anything to do with anyone.”
The massacre in Roseburg, a close-knit rural community of some 20,000, left residents stunned and struggling to come to grips with the tragedy.
“There is a sense of pride about our community and to think that we’re getting national recognition because someone shot people,” retired Umpqua theater professor Dean Remick, 62, told AFP.
Families of the victims issued statements expressing their heartbreak at the senseless killings.
“Our lives are shattered beyond repair,” said the family of Quinn Cooper, 18, who had just started classes at Umpqua after graduating from high school.
“No one should ever feel the pain that we are feeling.”
Relatives of Lucas Eibel, 18, said: “We have been trying to figure out how to tell everyone how amazing Lucas was, but that would take 18 years.”
– ‘It’s my son’s birthday’ –
Stories were also emerging of heroic acts by some who tried to stop the carnage.
Among them was army veteran Chris Mintz, who was shot several times after charging the gunman but survived.
His family said that as Mintz lay on the floor with bullet wounds, he looked up at the gunman and pleaded that it was his son’s sixth birthday but was shot again.
“He told him ‘please don’t do this, it’s my son’s birthday today,'” Mintz’s cousin Ariana Earnhardt told CNN.
She said Mintz had undergone surgery and was expected to recover.
The massacre revived the debate on gun control in America, with President Barack Obama reiterating Friday that unless gun safety measures are adopted, such killings would go on.
“Let’s not forget this is happening every single day in forgotten neighborhoods around the country,” Obama told reporters.
“Every single day, kids are just running for their lives trying to get to school.”
Obama ordered flags flown at half mast to honor the Umpqua victims.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush came under fierce criticism after saying “stuff happens,” when asked about renewed calls for gun control in the aftermath of the Umpqua shooting.
“Look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not always the right thing to do,” Bush said at the Conservative Leadership Project in Greenville, South Carolina, during a discussion about gun control.
Bush insisted, however, that his comments had “no connection” to the Oregon shooting.
He was guarding against the urge to press for new laws and regulations after tragedies like Thursday’s shooting.
Gun control is a divisive issue in the United States.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that Americans were evenly divided between those who say it’s more important to protect the right to own guns and those who want more control of gun ownership.
According to data compiled by Mass Shooting Tracker, a watchdog group, there have been 142 school shootings in the United States since 20 elementary school students and six adults were killed by gunman Adam Lanza in Connecticut in 2012.