Oregon shooting rattles small town
The community of Roseburg has hope during time of loss. | Photo courtesy of Matt Jackson
When Ciara Byars, 18, left her home in Sutherlin, Oregon the morning of Oct. 1, she kissed her mother goodbye and headed off to another day of higher education at Umpqua Community College. Ciara was in the midst of her usual routine around 10:30 a.m., shuffling off to classes, meeting with teachers and getting assignments done. However, Ciara’s world was completely rocked eight minutes later.
LIKE IN A DREAM
“I asked Ciara to text me when she gets to school and work so I know she got there safely, I asked if she could randomly call or text every now and again just to let me know things are going well while she was at school,” said Julisa Byars, Ciara’s mother. “When I heard her specific ringtone or text tone on my phone, I knew she was ok.”
On Thursday morning, Julisa was in the middle of teaching Jayce, her youngest son, math, when Ciara’s tone went off on Julisa’s cell phone.
“I thought, ‘Good she is ok.’ I was going to finish helping Jayce before I read it, but felt prompted to read it right away,” Julisa said. “Things weren’t ok.”
Ciara had walked into Snyder Hall that morning to meet with her professor when she got a call saying that the professor was running late and asked if they could reschedule in an hour. Walking out and away from Snyder Hall, Ciara heard shots go off from inside the building. The school was sent into lockdown and she was taken into a different part of the school until the police arrived to evacuate the students.
“I was never scared… It was like in a dream and it didn’t really hit me until that afternoon when I was at church,” Byars said. “It was a wave of grief for those who died and [the] students having to go through that experience. I also had some survivor’s guilt, knowing I was supposed to be in that building, yet I wasn’t because God had a different plan for me.”
COMES IN WAVES
Byars was not the only person who woke up that morning to attend UCC. Nine other students got in their cars to drive to school, but they were killed on Oct. 1 at 10:38 a.m.
In that Snyder Hall classroom, Chris Harper-Mercer, a student enrolled at UCC, stepped in and shot assistant professor, Lawrence Levine in the head. The shooter then demanded students to stand up and state their religion. If they were found to be Christian they were shot in the head. If they gave any other answer or refused to speak, he shot them in the legs. Eight students and their teacher were killed.
Though Ciara was not in the classroom or the building, she should have been. Byars had dropped Levine’s writing class two weeks before that day. She could have been in that room at that exact time, face-to-face with the shooter, asking her if she was a woman of faith.
When asked how she felt after the incident, Byars said, “It comes in waves. Overall I am okay, but sometimes I will start to think of friends I lost or the fact that I was there and could have died that day. There are no words to describe the emotions I feel. I have been processing through what happened but it’s going to be something that is part of me and it’s going to take some time before I don’t think about it every day.”
A TIGHT-KNIT TOWN
Roseburg, Ore. is a small community of around 22,000 people. The tight-knit town has come together even more to support each other during this hard time of chaos and confusion.
The reaction of the community from businesses to individuals has been tremendous. Individuals are wearing and hanging green ribbons in support for the victims and their families, and Mercy Medical Center has been overflowing with eager volunteers helping the nine other survivors in any way they can.
Craig Schlesinger, head pastor of Garden Valley Church in Roseburg has opened his church doors and his arms to welcome all affected by the tragedy. He is encouraging others to take a firm stand in their faith, just as the victims did. Schlesinger has been the head pastor for 14 years and on Sunday, Oct. 4, he faced his congregation with tears in his eyes, taking on the difficult task of trying to make sense of the senseless act committed three days before.
A SPONTANEOUS NEED
“As those brave men and women were willing to stand and take a bullet for their faith,” Schlesinger said, “so let us bravely stand this day and live our faith in Roseburg.”
The Roseburg church community has come together in support of the victims and their families. Schlesinger’s church has adopted two of the families that lost a loved one in the shooting and cared for them over the last two weeks. Volunteers take food and various resources to the families as relatives trickle into the tiny town for memorials and funerals.
The church was already “pretty active in outreach and demonstrating the Gospel in acts of kindness and serving, it wasn’t difficult to get our congregation on board, because we’ve been doing it, our church is very supportive of that,” Schlesinger said. “It was very organic, it happened very naturally because the need was so spontaneous.”
Garden Valley Church is not the only group engaging in community outreach. Various other pastors and counselors have offered their services to grieving friends and relatives, as well as businesses like Dutch Brothers Coffee. From the day of the shooting, Thursday, Oct. 1 to Sunday, Oct. 4, Dutch Brothers has given away free coffee to all customers.
“Our hearts go out to everyone in Umpqua Valley that was impacted by the shooting and to demonstrate our support we wanted to serve as a place where people could find a warm smile and moment of caring,” said Jennifer Wheatley, Dutch Bros. public relations director.
Various signs, bumper stickers and keychains have been made by Roseburg inhabitants who are giving the proceeds to the families. While Roseburg is a small community, they have banded together to overcome this tragedy.