We’re still trying to understand why 26-year-old Christopher Harper Mercer decided to open fire at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College on Thursday. There’s plenty of speculation and very little concrete evidence, so I’ll refrain from adding to the chaos. But one narrative that has been repeated in the media is that the killer was specifically targeting Christians.
The people who are perpetuating that narrative all point to stories like this one:
[Janet] Willis, who visited her granddaughter in the hospital, says [Anastasia] Boylan told her the shooter was asking students about their faith. “If they said they were Christian, he shot them in the head,” Willis says her granddaughter told her.
No one’s denying that story, as far as I can tell, but at least one news report is now offering a different interpretation of those incidents:
Rand McGowan was in the writing class where Mercer began his killing spree. As he tells the story, it’s true that victims were asked if they were religious… but not so they could be singled out for their faith. Rather, the question was almost a form of small talk so Mercer, who seemed to know he wouldn’t come out of this alive, could tell his victims whether he’d see them in the afterlife:
McGowan told family members that the gunman didn’t specifically target Christians but asked them about faith. The shooter, apparently planning to die during the massacre, told students: “I’ll see you soon” or “I’ll meet you soon.”
“The shooter would call a person: ‘You, stand up,'” Salas said, recalling what her son told her. “And then he would ask them if they were a Christian, knew God, or had religion. And it wasn’t like it was stated on TV. It wasn’t about that he was just trying to pinpoint Christians, no.”
The shooter would tell them it wouldn’t hurt.
“And then he would shoot them,” she said.
Still horrifying. Still tragic. But one more piece of evidence that this wasn’t an anti-Christian massacre. As far as we know, it wasn’t even an anti-religious massacre. Mercer killed people at random. He just appeared to have different parting words for them depending on how they answered the religion question.
By the way, if Mercer really said things like, “I’ll see you soon,” it also suggests he believed in the afterlife. Not really what you’d expect from an atheist.
Like Lauren said yesterday, a lot of people want to jump to conclusions that suit their narrative. But they’re not looking at all the evidence.
The more we learn, the less sense it makes to call this violence part of some war on Christianity.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Greg for the link)