WINCHESTER — Toni McDermott from Myrtle Creek clutched her white pearl rosary as bagpipes played under cloudy, rainy skies at the Day of Remembrance event held Friday at Umpqua Community College.
The Myrtle Creek resident gathered along with about 150 family members, staff and students Friday for a Day of Remembrance ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the UCC shooting on Oct. 1, 2015.
McDermott prayed on this same rosary the day of the shooting after she was transported to the Douglas County Fairgrounds by bus away from the college. At that time she prayed for the safety of those left behind before the names of the victims were released.
“I will never forget being at the fairgrounds and praying each time we heard that another bus might be on its way,” McDermott said. “We prayed that all the students were found and were on their way.”
She felt that day at the fairgrounds was the beginning of a community bond that led all of the people to pray for all of the students.
“It was a sad, terrifying time but I realized that I needed to view the positive association with the rosary,” she said. “Many of our students survived, and our community came together to heal from the event.”
Although she has begun her healing process, the Day of Remembrance brought tears to McDermott’s eyes, because she personally knew three of the nine victims: Lucero Alcatraz, Rebecka Carnes and Sarena Moore.
She also shed tears for the others: Treven Anspach, Quinn Cooper, Kim Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Johnson and Lawrence Levine.
Two bagpipe players from the Eugene Highlanders played solemn songs while those who attended quietly paid their respects. Afterward, a bell was rung nine times in honor of those who died. The bagpipers then played “Amazing Grace” as they walked away from the courtyard at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Also on campus Friday, UCC art student Zenus Pringle, who has been attending UCC for the last few years but was not on campus at the time of the shooting, said he believes the college is on its way to recovery.
“We had a lot of students who came back who were hurt by what happened, but they stay strong and they keep coming back,” Pringle said.
Pamela Bays, who was also on campus Friday and who is in her first week of class after transferring from Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming, said the shooting had no bearing on her decision to transfer to UCC. She believed the Day of Remembrance was a significant event because “it’s important to remember what happened, so hopefully in the future you can prevent other people from doing it.”
Friday was the first day McDermott had stepped back onto campus since the shooting.
“I realized that many of us who were avoiding campus needed to ‘take UCC back,’” she said. “The college belongs to all of us, and we can’t allow anything or anyone to take it away.”
McDermott is on the Douglas County Citizen’s Review Board that provides support to judges dealing with legal cases involving abused children who are wards of the court in the care of the Department of Human Services.
“My connection with the wonderful young persons at UCC who passed away was that, if I brought students on campus, who were high-functioning autistic or otherwise disabled, students such as Rebecka Carnes, Lucero Alcaraz and Sarena Moore, were always friendly, compassionate and helpful with the disabled students,” McDermott said. “Some young people can be unkind to the disabled.”
With approval from Gov. Kate Brown, the campus flag will remain at half-staff through Sunday, Oct. 1. A tribute to the survivors will also be displayed around the flag.
To further commemorate Oct. 1, 2015, the Umpqua Strong 5K/9K Run Walk is scheduled for 10 a.m. today beginning at Stewart Park in Roseburg.
Reporter Vera Westbrook can be reached at 541-957-4216 or email@example.com.