Mourners on Thursday remembered a 33-year-old student who was among 10 people who died in a shooting rampage at an Oregon community college last week, in the first of a series of publicly announced memorial services for the victims.
The service for Jason Johnson took place a week after gunman Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, opened fire at Umpqua Community College in the former timber town of Roseburg. Police exchanged gunfire with Harper-Mercer, and after he was wounded, he shot himself to death.
The massacre ranks as the deadliest U.S. shooting in two years.
Friends and family of Johnson, who has previously been described by relatives as proud of having enrolled in school and for being Christian, came to a large white church in Roseburg to pay their respects.
Harper-Mercer has been described as having asked victims their religion before he shot them, which troubled many people in Roseburg and beyond.
“These kids who were killed were martyrs,” said Sandy DeFrees, 73, a Roseburg resident who stood near the church.
About 200 people, including motorcyclists with Harley-Davison choppers, lined the street near the white-sided Church on the Rise in Roseburg for a service that marked the first publicly announced memorial for a victim of the massacre.
The spectators waved American flags or signs with messages such as “Roseburg strong.”
“When an event like this comes about, people need someone to lean on, that’s why we’re here,” said Mac McAllister, 73, a retired timber worker who is part of a Christian motorcycle club that stood near the church.
The service was closed to members of the media. Other memorials are planned for the coming days.
Johnson’s service occurred on the same day hospital officials said Army veteran Chris Mintz, the man credited with likely saving lives during the mass shooting, confirmed he had been released from Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg after treatment for multiple bullet wounds.
Mintz, 30, blocked the gunman from entering a classroom, his former girlfriend told Reuters. She said he was hit by seven bullets and lost a lot of blood, adding that he has rods in his legs and will be in a wheelchair until he learns to walk again.
The massacre has reignited the national debate over gun control.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Roseburg on Friday for private meetings with families of the victims.
(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)