The gunman who authorities say mercilessly opened fire inside a classroom at a small Oregon college Thursday shared a documentary about the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting tragedy on a Web forum just days ago and appeared to be a loner.
On the same website, Chris Harper-Mercer, using the handle “Lithium_Love,” also expressed sympathy for Vester Flanagan, the disgruntled former television reporter who shot and killed two Virginia journalists on live TV in August.
“People like him have nothing left to live for, and the only thing left to do is lash out at a society that has abandoned them,” Harper-Mercer wrote in a blog post on Aug. 31. “His family described him as alone, no partner/lover.
“On an interesting note, I have noted that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
Authorities in Roseburg, Ore., have not speculated why 26-year-old Harper-Mercer killed nine at Umpqua Community College before dying in a shootout with police officers. Seven other people were wounded, including three who remained in critical condition Thursday evening.
An agitated Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin offered little detail about the gunman at a news conference Thursday evening.
“I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” Hanlin said before declining to take questions.
Public records show that the gunman lived with his mother, a licensed nurse, two miles from the college.
Ian Mercer, the gunman’s father, refused to answer reporter’s questions outside his home in Tarzana, Calif., but called it a “devastating day” for him and his family.
The shooter’s stepsister said the tragedy made no sense.
“I’m shaking right now,” she told reporters. “He meant a lot to me. He was a nice guy, and he put everyone before himself ... it doesn’t sound right. All he ever did was put everyone before himself. He wanted everyone to be happy.”
School officials have not said if the shooter was a student, but a Tuesday post on the Facebook page of the college's theater group announced that a Chris Harper-Mercer had been picked as a production assistant for an upcoming play.
One student told Yahoo News that students in the English class where the shooting took place did not recognize the gunman. The grandson of a woman who escaped injury but witnessed others die in that classroom relayed his grandmother’s horror in a Twitter message Thursday afternoon.
“The shooter was lining up people and asking if they were Christian,” Bodhi Looney posted. “If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.”
Harper-Mercer’s disdain for organized religion was evident in his social media posts and profiles. He also used the screen name “IronCross45” and had a dating profile at the site spiritualprofiles.com, where he listed his interests as the “internet, killing zombies, movies, music, reading.”
“Not Religious, Not Religious, but Spiritual,” he answered about himself on the site. As for a partner, he said “Pagan, Wiccan, Not Religious, but Spiritual” were qualities he desired.
The dating forum indicates Harper-Mercer had not been on the site in more than three months.
But the former California resident was very active on the torrent upload site where he shared the BBC film “Surviving Sandy Hook.” In addition to file sharing, the site has blogs, Q&As and other forums.
His first blog post, titled “The material world is a lie,” was published to the site 20 days before his birthday in July.
“For so long we have been taught that what’s important in life is to buy this and have that,” he wrote. “To always have the latest fashion, biggest tv, fanciest car, nicest house, and blah, blah, blah. Well, the truth is we’ve become so attached to these things, our spiritual development has been halted. … This attachment produces so much of the stress and worrying in the world today.”
Authorities reportedly recovered three handguns and a rifle that were apparently used in Thursday’s rampage.
This year, Oregon became one of only 18 states that require mandatory background checks for all gun sales. Public records don’t indicate Harper-Mercer had a previous criminal history. In an undated photo on his MySpace profile, he is posed holding a rifle.
On Tuesday, Harper-Mercer answered a discussion thread asking: “How many girlfriends you have had?”
“0,” he wrote. “Never had anyone.”
The day before the shooting, a poster replied to him in the thread saying, “You must be saving yourself for someone special. In due time then...”
“Involuntarily so,” Harper-Mercer responded.
(This story has be updated since it originally published.)
Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).