ROSEBURG, Ore. (Reuters) - Mourners on Thursday remembered a student who was among 10 people who died in a shooting rampage at an Oregon community college, in the first of a series of publicly announced memorial services for the victims.
The service for Jason Johnson, 33, 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-sided church in Roseburg to pay their respects.
Harper-Mercer is said to have 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 lined the street near Church on the Rise for a service that marked the first publicly announced memorial for a victim of the massacre.
Many spectators waved American flags.
“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 officials at a Roseburg hospital said Army veteran Chris Mintz, 30, the man credited with likely saving lives during the attack by blocking a doorway to a classroom before he was shot multiple times, confirmed he had been released.
He was one of nine people wounded.
Doctors at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield, north of Roseburg, said on Thursday 19-year-old Julie Woodworth is improving after she was airlifted to the hospital with gunshot wounds to her head, arms and legs.
“She’s out of the woods as far as the major swelling” around the brain, said neurosurgeon Dr. Neil Roundy. He added that Woodworth is awake, but not talking.
The massacre has reignited the national debate over gun control.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Roseburg on Friday to meet with families of the victims.
Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Shumaker and Alan Crosby