A week has passed since a 26-year-old man shot and killed nine people at Umqua Community College in Roseburg, but the impact of the mass shooting appeared to be still fresh as about 120 people gathered near Britt Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus Thursday morning to share their reactions, support others and, mostly, listen.
The vigil began at 10 a.m. and was followed by a barbecue organized by the Student Veterans Association whose proceeds will go directly to UCC victims’ families. Later, at 2 p.m., SOU hosted a community meeting in the library. There, administrators and representatives from Campus Public Safety and Student Support and Intervention were on hand to answer questions.
SOU associate provost and director of graduate studies Jody Waters got right to the heart of the matter in her opening remarks at the vigil, which came less than two days after SOU’s own scare — a hand-written note that made threatening statements was found in a bathroom on campus Tuesday evening, prompting the university to cancel all classes Wednesday.
“As you know there are a lot of questions and a lot of concerns that we have,” Waters said. “I suspect that some of those may have brought you here today. I suspect that what may have also brought you is just a sense of fear and uncertainty about what it means for our community to be confronted by such violence. … I think that being here is a way that we can provide one another resources and support. One of other hopes for today is that we can use this as a collective expression of our solidarity, our sadness, our sorrow and our honor to all those that lost their lives last week in Roseburg.”
As people gathered for the vigil, some sitting on the Third Eye sculpture rocks and others choosing to stand, at least five Ashland police officers and SOU campus security officers could be spotted, surveying a scene roughly 100 yards south of the Education-Psychology Building where the note was found. A few of those who attended the ceremony, organized in a collaborative effort Monday, wiped tears from their eyes as Waters spoke about the importance of expressing grief.
She also talked about the added security measures that had been put in place, and said that campus security and the APD are working together.
“As much as I would like to say we can tell you that you are safe, we can’t do that and I’m sorry that we can’t, but I don’t think that that’s ever the case,” Waters said. “But what we can do is tell you that everything that can be done is being done and will continue to be done to ensure that our community is informed and aware and as safe as we can possibly make it.”
Associated Students of Southern Oregon University president Torii Uyehara also addressed the crowd. Later, Waters invited anybody who wanted to share to do so. There were, “no rules,” she said. A few did, including Michael Bryant, a former SOU football player and a senior communication major.
“The cool thing here at SOU,” he said. “is that despite all the diversity we can still have peace, grace and love.”
The barbecue in front of the Stevenson Union Courtyard was organized and staffed by the SVA. To several of its members, the attack at UCC was personal. Caroline Champion and Nick Morello both grew up in Oakland, which is about 15 miles north of Roseburg.
Soon after news broke that a gunman had opened fire on the campus, a friend of Morello pulled him aside and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
Morello had earned an associate’s degree from UCC and remembers as a child taking the “swim bus” from Sutherlin to UCC, swimming all day and busing back home. His friend, who, like Morello, is a member of the Student Veterans Association, knew of Morello’s connection.
They talked about what happened and Morello was able to express his grief, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at the list of victims until Sunday. That’s when he knew he would have the support of a “very, very close friend.” Turns out, Morello needed that support more than he could have imagined. He knew four of the nine victims. One of the victims, Lawrence Levine, 67, was Morello’s first college professor.
“I waited because as a veteran, we don’t really talk about things, we have our personal ways of dealing with things and really hard times like that — you do things you don’t want to do, that you shouldn’t do to numb the pain,” said Morello, a former search and rescue specialist for the Navy who’s an education major at SOU. “So I waited until Sunday, when I knew I had a support that I could talk to immediately as we went through the names together. …I saw the names. It was heartbreaking.”
Morello said he and four other SVA members are going to drive up to Roseburg on Sunday and personally deliver the money they made Thursday to the victims’ families.
Meanwhile, the Ashland Police Department continues to investigate the source of the note, which was discovered in a women’s restroom on the main level of the Education-Psychology Building. Classes were in session Thursday and it was back to work for the hundreds of students and faculty members who shuffle in and out of the building every day. In the bathroom in question, black smudges from fingerprint dusting were still smeared across a toilet and a sink.
APD Chief Tighe O’Meara said detectives have made progress but are “not close to (bringing) charges.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.