The Oregon Shooting and the Perpetrator’s Sphere of Influence

Last Thursday, we had a horrific event, a shooting on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Chris Harper-Mercer was the shooter behind the deadly rampage that wounded nine individuals and took the lives of nine more.  As a nation, we all send the families of the victims our prayers and sympathy.

Mental health struggles often lead to damaging outcomes

Chris Harper-Mercer
Chris Harper-Mercer (photo courtesy of New York Times)

It is traumatic for these victims’ families to experience such violent and sudden loss. I think this kind of violence and horror damages all of us who believe that our schools, colleges, universities and communities are safe for our students.

Signs that reveal a person’s unhealthy struggles and intentions

As with other similar events, once again we see that Chris Harper-Mercer clearly was intending to commit these shootings, and did show those within his sphere of influence indicators of his mental struggling.  To my knowledge, he did not publish his intentions anywhere, nor do I think anyone knew of his specific plans. Yet, he possessed 14 firearms and a flak jacket. He wrote an entire manifesto now in the possession of the police which should be quite revealing.

News stories suggested he seemed fervent in his plans and was wanting to make a statement to his victims and to the police of his intent for an all-out exchange of gunfire. Clearly, he was struggling with so much and ended in a dark place that led to destruction within his entire community and himself, as he committed suicide in the midst of the assault.

I certainly hear the need to regulate gun purchases. 

I cannot see the need for anyone to possess 14 firearms.  However, we also have to recognize our culture needs to do a much better job in assisting those indicating mental illness (or other issues) which could result in violence.

I recognize that as professionals, we cannot possibly manage or prevent every potential dangerous issue.  Yet, I also recognize how funding limits our ability to deal with problems like this. We are seeing record numbers of individuals slip through the cracks of our systems which are designed to help individuals with indicators like these get the help they desperately need.  The consequence is that we too frequently find ourselves in a crisis with devastating outcomes.

Aware of those within our sphere of influence

I hope that each of us will be more vigilant, to be aware of those in our sphere of influence who may be displaying indicators of mental illness, violence or other destructive behavior.

We all should be on high alert for such situations. Our intentions should be to make sure we are offering the needed help and hope to those who are struggling and calling out for help.  It may save their lives and the lives of others in our community.  It is our mutual commitment to safety for our families and communities in which we live and function.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network



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