The image immediately grabbed my attention Thursday: A Roseburg, Ore., police officer holds the arms of a man behind his back while he pats him down for weapons at Umpqua Community College.
Other students stand with their hands on their heads as two Oregon State Police troopers search their book bags.
In the background, a Douglas County Fire District No. 2 ambulance waits, a blunt warning that what happened minutes earlier on the small college campus nestled against the North Umpqua River was not good.
Before returning home to Idaho two years ago, I spent two decades working for The News-Review newspaper in Roseburg.
That photograph and others from my former colleague Michael Sullivan were flashed nearly nonstop on CNN, network broadcasts and newspaper websites throughout the country, including IdahoStatesman.com.
I was sickened by the sight of yellow police tape outside Snyder Hall, a classroom building that I had visited many times over the years. I wept as I thought of how easy it would have been for the gunman to stand outside the building and spray bullets inside the classrooms. There are no hallways in those classroom buildings. An outside door leads directly into the room, with many classrooms on all four sides of the rectangular buildings.
I was saddened by the news that nine students and faculty members killed by the gunman, identified Thursday evening as Chris Harper Mercer, a 26-year-old loner who moved to Roseburg a year or two ago from California with his mother. It was the worst mass shooting in Oregon history.
I’m just glad Mercer didn’t choose to walk across the street from his apartment complex in Winchester, an unincorporated town on the south side of the North Umpqua River and across from the college. If he had walked into Winchester Elementary School, there might have been even more people killed.
I helped cover a 2006 shooting at Roseburg High School, where 14-year-old Vincent Leodoro carried a semi-automatic pistol loaded with hollow-point bullets and shot student Joseph Monti, 16, four times in the back in the school courtyard.
Monti suffered nerve damage to his foot but survived.
Leodoro, now 24, was convicted of attempted murder, assault and several weapons charges. He was paroled in 2011.
Many Roseburg High students felt unsafe returning to school and that shooting and those feelings may be magnified for UCC students traumatized by the large number of people killed on the college campus. Classes there resume until at least Monday.
Roseburg, located 70 miles south of Eugene and with a population of 22,510, is a lot like my hometown of Emmett, where the timber industry once reigned supreme.
For decades, Roseburg was known as the “Timber Capital of the Nation.” Its county, Douglas County once boasted annual timber harvests of between 1 billion board feet and 2 billion board feet. In the late 1940s, the county had nearly 300 mills. Today, there are only a handful.
Umpqua Community College, known throughout Roseburg as “UCC,” has played an important role in retraining former timber workers to find another line of work. Many have become nurses, X-ray technicians and other medical professionals. Others have gone into law enforcement or become firefighters.
When UCC was founded in 1964, there was discussion about placing it on Stewart Parkway, a main drag in the city. Instead, the school’s founders chose a hilly rural setting along the river north of town. In a way, it made the campus isolated, with less drive-by traffic than if it had been located in town.
I felt sad watching local officials on TV, the grief they felt etched on their faces. The sheriff, the district attorney, the police chief and mayor were all people I’d known before they rose to those positions. They’re all earnest people who care deeply about the residents of their community and were deeply troubled by what happened, as we all are.
I saw friends from Roseburg post messages on their Facebook pages, offering to give rides to students stranded at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where students were taken to get them away from campus after the shootings. Others posted to let people know their children were safe while expressing condolences to those who weren’t as fortunate.
I imagine I may know some of the victims or their families. Roseburg resident Gail Kuntz summed up my feelings and those of many of my friends back in Douglas County as she left a candlelight vigil for the victims at a popular Roseburg park on Thursday evening.
“I don't even want to know the names yet. I'm not ready,” Kuntz said. “Once the names are released, it's going to hurt this community all over again.”