TORRANCE (CBSLA.com) — The man suspected of opening fire on a college campus and killing nine people in Oregon had ties to Torrance and relatives in Tarzana, CBS Los Angeles has learned.
Carmen Nesnick, the stepsister of Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, said he was born in the United Kingdom and traveled to the United States as a young boy.
“I’m actually still shaking and my mom is in there crying. I don’t know what to do,” said Nesnick, who explains that Harper-Mercer’s father, who lives in Tarzana, married her mother a few years ago.
She says the last time she spoke with Harper-Mercer was about a year ago. Even though they had met only a few times, Nesnick described him as “caring and supportive.”
“All he ever did was put everybody before himself. He wanted everyone to be happy. No matter if he was sad or mad, he would always try to cheer up everybody,” she said.
Nesnick said her stepbrother was not a religious nor anti-religious person and that her family is Christian.
“I am just as shocked as anybody at what happened today,” said Ian Mercer, the suspect’s father.
“I can’t answer any questions right now. I don’t want to answer any questions right now. Obviously, it’s been a devastating day, devastating for me and my family,” he said.
Authorities said 10 people, including the suspected gunman, were killed in the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., a campus that spans more than 100 acres. Law enforcement officials reported earlier that at least 13 people had died in the shootings and 20 were wounded. That number was later downgraded.
“I looked out, and I saw the people running,” recalls one witness. “I said to the teacher, ‘We need to get out of here right now.’ ”
Law enforcement sources late Thursday identified Harper-Mercer to CBS News as the suspect, although local authorities refused to release his identity.
“Let me be very clear. I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County, said during an evening news conference.
Students say the suspect opened fire for about a minute while officers arrived on scene. Law enforcement sources said the shooter had body armor on and was heavily armed. Four guns were reportedly found at the scene, including pistols and a rifle, according to CBS News.
Paul Morgan, a UCC professor, said he heard four quick gunshots and at first was unsure about what was happening.
“Suddenly, I saw row upon row of police cars. I saw ambulances. Then I saw FBI people with guns,” Morgan said.
At least one officer got into a shootout with the suspect. Once he was confirmed dead, paramedics rushed in to treat the victims.
“The suspect is down. We’ve got multiple gunshot wounds. We’re gonna need multiple ambulances on scene,” a 911 dispatcher is heard saying on a recording. “We have upwards of 20 victims.”
Police then scoured the area, going building to building and room to room, searching the campus and backpacks.
A student told a local publication in Ore. that the gunman inquired about students’ religions before opening fire.
Authorities have not confirmed whether religions were inquired about, but federal authorities were trying to determine if the incident was a hate crime.
At Arlington Apartments in Torrance, neighbors told CBS Los Angeles that Harper-Mercer lived there with his mother possibly from 2009 to 2012 and kept mostly to himself.
“I’m surprised. I’m shocked,” said Derrick McClendon, a former neighbor. “He never posed a threat or anything of that nature.”
But looking back, neighbors say, Harper-Mercer had a preoccupation with guns.
“I did see him at the time leaving his apartment and coming home with what looked like gun cases. Him and his mom both. And he actually did say that he used to go shooting at some range. I don’t know where it was,” another man said.
They also recalled his obsession with military-style clothing.
“He would always wear like a white muscle shirt, khaki Army pants and like big combat boots,” one woman said.
Neighbors said they couldn’t recall that Harper-Mercer had a job, girlfriend or any friends for the duration of time that he lived there.
Harper-Mercer, according to KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO, had identified Torrance as his hometown on the hiking website, All-Trails, in September 2012. A MySpace page apparently belonging to him shows him holding a gun and includes pictures of the IRA and other armed people.
In an online blog attributed to Harper-Mercer, he referenced multiple shootings, including one in Virginia in August that left a television news reporter and cameraman dead.
He wrote about the suspected killer, Vester Flanagan, saying: “I have noticed that so many people like [Flanagan] are alone and unknown yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows you they are. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the spotlight.”
The Daily Beast, according to the radio station, said his mother used to live in Torrance before moving to an apartment in Winchester, Ore. Kim Hermeneglido, a former Torrance neighbor, described Harper Mercer’s mother as a nurse who was outspoken. She remembers the day she told her they were moving.
“I remember the day that they were just getting everything all packed up and she goes, ‘Yeah, the movers are coming and then we’re gonna drive, make our trip out to Oregon,’ ” Hermeneglido recalled.
Harper-Mercer’s online dating profile paints a picture of a quiet man, one who was looking for a soul mate to share his beliefs.
The profile listed his hobbies and interests as “Internet, killing zombies, movies, music, reading,” CBS News reported. The profile also said he was of mixed race, Republican, and not religious.
The Daily Beast also reported that Harper-Mercer indicated on that profile that he was living with his parents and searching for the “yin to my yang,” according to KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.
There have been more than 200 mass shootings this year in the U.S. as defined as an incident where four or more persons including the gunman are shot at an event, according to Mass Shooting Tracker. The site says 380 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have been injured in mass shootings. The U.S. has gone no longer than eight days without a mass shooting in 2015, the site reported.
“We are the only country on earth that sees these mass shootings every few months,” President Barack Obama said at a news briefing late Thursday. “Somehow, this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it, we become numb to this.”