Chris Harper Mercer, the 26-year-old gunman who killed nine, wounded nine, and then shot himself at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week, should remain nameless in the grieving community he left behind.
They didn’t know him when he was alive, and they don’t want to know him now, as the dust settles at Umpqua after the shooting.
“I don’t know that name. I don’t use that name,” Keith Weikum, who worked with Mercer on theater productions at Umpqua Community College, told the Los Angeles Times. “Say: ‘the shooter.’”
His wife, Wendy, challenged the Times to write an article about the Umpqua shooting that didn’t mention the gunman. Reporter Matt Pearce accepted the challenge; his article appeared in Sunday’s edition of the paper.
Because no one really knew Mercer very well in life, not much can be said about the man with a certainty. He left a manifesto behind at Umpqua after the shooting, the Associated Press has said, and in it, the shooter apparently expressed fears that he’d die a friendless virgin, the Inquisitr previously reported.
And it appears he may have. Not only is the community of Roseburg insisting on keeping Mercer anonymous, they didn’t pay him much notice when he was alive.
His neighbors thought he was weird. Survivor Kendra Godon, who survived the Umpqua shooting, said she couldn’t remember if she’d seen the gunman before. Someone who knew him when he lived in Torrance, California, Jane Ortiz, said he was awkward and “really didn’t have a personality that was memorable.”
Any efforts to use the gunman’s name in the local press have been met with unbridled anger and protest. Local paper Roseburg News-Review published his name and a mugshot. Afterward on Facebook, readers called the move a slap in the face; another person suggested everyone stop buying the newspaper.
In an email to the Times, Umpqua student Dylan Knapp wrapped up the argument behind keeping the shooter anonymous.
“I don’t really want to know anything about him at all. I know that all that stuff is gonna come out and that people will have their theories on why he did it, but I myself have no desire to know anything about him. I want to know more about the victims.”
People want to remember and focus on the victims of the Umpqua shooting and forget about the man who killed them. And they believe that by ignoring Mercer and his actions in death, they’ll prevent copy cats. The shooter himself hinted at his motivation for the shooting — notoriety — pointing to Virginia shooter Vester Flanagan, who shot two journalists on live television.
“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.”
However, there are some problems with withholding the name of a someone who perpetuated a mass shooting. Firstly, it stymies an investigation. The Oregonian, which is based in Portland, said that it’s very difficult to pass on tips about the Umpqua shooter if no one ever knows who he is.
As for the News-Review, though they withheld his name after public outcry, publisher Jeff Ackerman said that was an error.
“Not sure how we follow the story without a name. Evil has a name and a face. Hitler, Pol Pot, Charles Manson, etc. What do we call him when researching his 13 weapons, mental health issues, etc? ‘Shooter Number Two’?”
The debate that has followed the Umpqua shooting, and every mass shooting in this country, has focused on gun control and preventing copy cats, trying to understand why Mercer was compelled to kill nine people and then himself. But by ignoring him in death, it may be difficult to answer those questions.
“Evil has a name and a face,” as Ackerman put it, and the only way to understand it — and perhaps prevent another shooting — is to pay attention. Ignoring the Chris Harper Mercers of the world won’t make them go away.
Meanwhile, police may have the shooter’s flash drive, given to survivor Mathew Downing, 18. Amid the shooting, the gunman gave it to him in an envelope and told him to hand it over to police. Perhaps its content will further illuminating the young man’s motives.
And in a church service over the weekend, Pastor Randy Scroggins — whose daughter survived the shooting — addressed the grief and pain that has followed the slaughter at Umpqua and how the community can move and forgive. However, Scroggins said he didn’t know if he could do that himself.
“Can I be honest? I don’t know. That’s the worst part of my job. I don’t know. I don’t focus on the man. I focus on the evil that was in the man.”
What do you think? Should we keep the shooter anonymous?
[Photos Courtesy Scott Olson / Getty Images]