Hundreds of people lined the road leading to the Oregon community college where a gunman killed nine people, holding signs reading “UCC Strong” as students returned Monday to the scene of the deadliest shooting in state history.
The Umpqua Community College campus in the small town of Roseburg reopened last week, but students are heading back to class for the first time since the Oct. 1 shooting, which also wounded nine people.
Residents waving American flags and signs greeted students driving into campus. Volunteers and dogs came to offer comfort, and tissues were available in every classroom. State troopers and sheriff’s deputies patrolled the grounds.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown joined interim college President Rita Cavin and student body president Tony Terra in welcoming students who returned for morning classes.
“There was a lot of hugs and a lot of tears,” the governor told reporters. “We are here to help students rebuild their lives.”
The gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, shot his victims in a classroom in Snyder Hall before exchanging fire with police and then killing himself. Administrators have not started talking about what will happen to Snyder Hall, which is still closed, Cavin said.
It’s also too soon to say how security at the college might change, she said. Campus police are not armed in this conservative town where residents commonly own and carry guns. The shooting has led to calls for more gun restrictions to reduce the bloodshed, while others here and across the country contend that the answer is more people being armed.
The campus was closed to the media for much of the day. Despite that, many students skipped class Monday because they didn’t want to confront reporters, Cavin said.
“We’re hoping they understand this level of press activity is going to diminish really quickly, and it will feel safer to come back,” Cavin said. “Some of them are just holding back and waiting for the campus to look like the campus they left.”
Supporters started lining the street before dawn. Workers from AAA Sweep, a Roseburg parking-lot sweeping company, arrived at 5:30 a.m., even though some of them didn’t get off work until 2 a.m.
“UCC touches everybody in this community in some way,” company owner Carl Bird told The Register-Guard newspaper. “You’ve got displaced workers that come here, you’ve got kids out of high school coming here, I’ve hired people from here.
“And they all put back in the community when they graduate,” he said. “So it’s just something that I felt we should support.”