Probe into IRA sympathiser’s US massacre uncovers 13 weapons

Snapshot taken from MySpace page of US killer Chris Harper Mercer
Snapshot taken from MySpace page of US killer Chris Harper Mercer

Thirteen guns have been recovered by police investigating a killing spree carried out by an IRA-sympathising gunman on a US college campus.

Chris Harper-Mercer – whose father is reportedly English – opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on Thursday before dying after a shoot-out with police.

Authorities investigating the massacre said they had found a number of firearms at the apartment of the 26-year-old, whose MySpace internet account included images of republican paramilitaries.

Harper-Mercer killed at least nine people in his rampage, although it had earlier been believed the number was 13 or higher.

Yesterday evening, the BBC reported Stacy Boylan – the father of one of the survivors – as saying that the gunman had asked people if they were Christian, adding that the killer had told victims “because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second”.

Federal investigators recovered six weapons at the college and seven at Mercer’s nearby apartment.

All of the weapons were purchased legally, seven of them by the shooter or his family members in the last three years said Celinez Nunez, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) assistant special agent in charge.

Investigators also found a flak jacket next to a rifle at the school, which contained steel plates, she said.

Mercer is not believed to have a criminal history. Investigators believe he may have been a student at the college because a receipt found at the scene showed he purchased textbooks from the campus bookstore two days before the shooting, the ATF said.

Harper-Mercer’s family have spoken of their shock over the incident.

His father, Ian Mercer, told reporters he was “just as shocked as everybody else” at his son’s actions.

Speaking with a distinctive English accent from his home in the US, Mr Mercer told reporters: “I’ve just been talking to the police and the FBI and all the details I have right now is what you guys (reporters) have already.

“I can’t answer any questions right now, I don’t want to answer any questions right now. It’s been a devastating day, devastating for me and my family. Shocked is all I can say.”

Carmen Nesnick, Harper-Mercer’s step-sister, said he was born in the United Kingdom and travelled to the United States as a young boy.

She added: “I’m actually still shaking and my mom is in there crying. I don’t know what to do.”

Several people remain in hospital following the incident, the 45th school shooting in the US this year.

Witnesses described the moment Harper-Mercer stormed the school.

Kortney Moore, 18, said she was in a writing class when a shot came through the window and hit the teacher in the head.

The gunman then entered the Snyder Hall classroom, told people to get on the floor, she told the Roseburg News-Review newspaper.

The gunfire, shortly after 10.30am local time, sparked panic as students ran for safety and police and ambulances rushed to the scene.

Hannah Miles, 19, said she was in her writing class when her teacher got a call from security saying the school was in lockdown.

She heard gunshots from a neighbouring classroom.

She said that, huddled together in the locked classroom, the students and teacher heard footsteps outside and a man’s voice call out to them: “Come on out, come on out.” They remained quiet and did not open the door.

Police soon arrived and, after students were convinced that they were indeed officers, they opened the door.

“It was like a huge burden had been lifted,” she said. “A huge sigh of relief that we were going to be OK.”

Bronte Hart, a neighbour in Harper-Mercer’s community of Winchester, said he used to “sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light”.

The killer was the son of Laurel Margaret Harper and Ian Bernard Mercer, who split before he was born, according to reports.

Harper-Mercer lived with his African-American mother, a nurse, at an apartment, according to the LA Times.

Army spokesman Lt Col Ben Garrett said Harper-Mercer was in the Army for a little over a month at Ft Jackson, South Carolina, but was discharged for failing to meet the minimum standards.

He did not say which standards Harper-Mercer failed to meet.

It was not clear last night if the gunman was killed by authorities or took his own life.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said: “It’s been a terrible day. Certainly this is a huge shock to our community.”

The sheriff himself has been vocal in opposing gun-control legislation.

It emerged that in 2013, Hanlin sent a letter to vice president Joe Biden after the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, declaring that he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun-control restrictions.