After shooting, Roseburg residents turn to churches for healing

Residents of Roseburg, Ore., sought solace in church services following Thursday’s deadly shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College. 

John Locher/AP
Randy Scroggins, pastor at New Beginnings Church of God, right, embraces Mathew Downing during a church service at the New Beginnings Church of God, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Roseburg, Ore. Scroggins said Downing was spared by a gunman during a deadly rampage on a college campus and received an envelope with a flash drive from the shooter.

As the residents of Roseburg, Ore., come to terms with their grief, pastors have been at the forefront.

People in the southern Oregon timber town – located in what’s sometimes called the state’s Bible Belt  – sought solace in church services following Thursday’s deadly shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College. Local church leaders moved quickly to calm residents, provide comfort, and work with the community as it tries to heal.

Two hundred people crowded into Garden Valley Church on Sunday, where pastor Craig Schlesinger told parishioners that living the faith means countering the rampage "with acts of kindness.’ " He spoke about making sense of survivor reports that the gunman, Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, asked who was Christian before shooting them.

"As those brave men and women were willing to stand and take a bullet for their faith... so let us bravely stand this day and live our faith in Roseburg," Pastor Schlesinger said, wiping away tears.

More than 100 people also gathered at New Beginnings Church of God on Sunday to hear pastor Randy Scroggins, whose daughter Lacey survived the shooting because the gunman mistakenly thought she was dead. The pastor said he's been asked whether he can forgive Mr. Harper-Mercer, who killed 10 in his shooting rampage, including himself.

"Can I be honest? I don't know. That's the worst part of my job. I don't know," said Pastor Scroggins, his voice cracking with emotion. "I don't focus on the man. I focus on the evil that was in the man."

When pastor Jon Nutter got a text message the day of the shooting and realized how many had been killed or injured, he immediately formed a prayer circle at Starbucks where he was sitting.

He then rushed to open his church in Roseburg to anyone in need of counseling before driving to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where officials were reuniting students with family members.

As bus after bus rolled into the fairgrounds on Thursday carrying students, faculty and staff, Pastor Nutter and about two dozen other local pastors held crying students, formed prayer circles, listened to eyewitnesses recount the incident, and watched tearful reunions with parents and spouses.

"They had been waiting for a long time, hoping, praying," said Nutter, pastor of Hucrest Community Church of God. "People were crying, yelling, some families were angry, others going into denial and shock."

At the same time, members of the community refused to say the killer’s name, in an effort “to take away the dark glamour that draws some individuals to desperate and cruel acts,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Sappenfield.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin would not say his name: 'I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.' The Portland Oregonian newspaper has said it will use the name only when necessary. And on Twitter, a hashtag has sprung up: #dontsayhisname.

“The shooter is gone. It’s about the people who are living and the people who were lost,” resident Debra Atkinson told The Washington Post before a prayer service Sunday. “This community is the real survivor.”

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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