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Anti-Christian animus said to be behind Oregon college shooting spree

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ROSEBURG, Ore. — The gunman behind the Oct. 1 massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg reportedly asked students whether they were Christian.

Umpqua Community College alumna Donice Smith, left, is embraced after learning one of her former teachers was killed in Roseburg, Ore., Oct. 1. (CNS photo/Steve Dipaola, Reuters)

Umpqua Community College alumna Donice Smith, left, is embraced after learning one of her former teachers was killed in Roseburg, Ore., Oct. 1. (CNS photo/Steve Dipaola, Reuters)

One student at the college, and the sister of a second student, both told news organizations that the apparent shooter, Chris Mercer, 26, told people in classrooms to stand up and declare whether they were Christian. If they responded yes, they were shot in the head. If they answered no or gave some other answer, they were shot elsewhere.

Nine people were killed and nine others wounded before Mercer died in an exchange of gunfire with officers at the scene.

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland sent a message Oct. 1 to worshippers gathered at St. Joseph Church in Roseburg.

“I am saddened beyond words,” Archbishop Sample said. “We are one body in Christ, and when even one member suffers, we all suffer with them. My heard is indeed very heavy with sorry as I grieve with all of you.”

He added, “Along with you, I cannot begin to make sense of the tragic loss of life of our fellow community members and the many wounded in this terrible and violent attack. Why such shooting tragedies continue to happen is hard to understand. Sadly, we live in the midst of a culture that does not value the dignity and sacredness of every human life as it once did.”

President Barack Obama, at a White House briefing Oct. 1, asked how anyone could argue that more guns will make people safer.

“I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances,” Obama said. “But based on my experience as president, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say.”

The president added, “It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. … I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these (gun) laws and to save lives and to let young people grow up, and that will require a change of politics.”

Two Catholic hospitals, Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg and PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, treated some of those wounded in the shooting.

“We pray for the victims and their families, and we call for reasonable gun violence control measures to save more innocent lives from meeting the same tragic ends,” said an Oct. 2 statement by the Jewish Committee on Public Affairs. “What’s more, it appears this crime may have been motivated by anti-Christian bias. Crimes based on prejudice and hatred are deplorable and are anathema to the fundamental values of democracy upon which this nation is founded.”

The statement added, “The overwhelming carnage from the endless stream of mass shootings is utterly unacceptable. Comprehensive and fully enforced gun regulation and violence prevention is needed to restore the safety of our schools, communities, and public spaces. While no single solution will prevent all future tragedies, we are committed to supporting efforts to save lives.”

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