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UCC Shooting: Six years passed doesn't mean six years removed

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A display at Umpqua Community College in 2020 honored the nine victims of a mass shooting at the school on Oct. 1, 2015.

I caught myself driving home last week in silence.

The soft thud of the interstate transitioning from asphalt to the concrete leading over the North Umpqua River ripped me out of my thoughts. I looked to my right, watching the water cascade over the Winchester Dam with Umpqua Community College sitting in the background.

I started to cry.

Six years ago I looked the same way. I was a few months into my job at The News-Review and had never been to the college before — honestly, I didn’t even know where it was. But as I pulled onto the freeway on my way to cover the shooting, I quickly realized I didn’t need directions, I just had to follow the screaming line of police cars headed in the same direction.

The permanence of the shooting has hit me differently every year, but this year in particular has been the most — confusing.

A friend of mine who was on campus said this year felt the hardest, while another said she was finally able to find some semblance of peace after the 5th anniversary. Meanwhile, I’ve struggled to figure out where in that spectrum I exist.

I still pause when a shooting comes across the police scanner, I find myself frustrated when I read reports that mention past massacres but omit UCC, and I can’t drive Umpqua College Road without picturing ambulances flying by.

Growing up I was always presented with the idea that grief was linear. Tragedy and heartache would hit you, but then it would slowly and steadily get better. Time heals all wounds, as they say.

It’s a well-intentioned phrase, I suppose, but a misnomer nonetheless.

Six years later and I still remember the knowing nod the fire chief gave when he saw me that morning on campus, the student who hugged me in front of Snyder Hall when I went up to interview her, and the state trooper who saw me standing in the middle of it all, my notepad shaking, and asked if I was OK.

I nodded, thanked him, and scribbled something to myself as he walked away.

“I’m not,” I wrote.

I’ve flipped through that notebook each year since the shooting, but find myself identifying with those words more today than I did a few years ago. I’ve passed the college thousands of times on my way to and from work and always feel a twinge of guilt, a feeling that I don’t anticipate will ever go away. I’ve long been uncomfortable claiming any amount of grief for an event that I’m only tangentially connected to — I didn’t lose a loved one and I wasn’t there to hear the gunshots — but the conversations I’ve had with those who did seem louder this year.

If that same trooper were to ask me today if I was OK, I’d say no. But admitting that feels worlds better than continuing to swallow the thing grief wants me to believe: That six years passed should mean six years removed.

I’ve long encouraged friends to express their grief rather than let it fester — advice that, as they know, I’m terrible at following.

But it seems time. Which might be selfish to acknowledge here, and on this day in particular, but maybe it’ll help someone else. Maybe not.

Either way, I’ll continue to look east toward the college as I cross the river each morning and keep those who died, and those who survived, on my mind.

Ian Campbell can be reached at ian@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4209. Or follow him on Twitter @MrCampbell17.

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(7) comments

1962pixie

Ian you wrote an amazing article. Having lived here most of my life my feelings of that day mirror yours. I too was at work at at a local Police Dept listening to the calls going out, hearing my Officers hit the back door as they ran out to respond, feeling so helpless. We will never forget that moment in time. Also, Thank you for not making this article about hate or political agenda.

melrosereader

Thank you. The sadness never goes away. But as time goes by we can remember with less pain.

biz_vii

Thanks for the story Ian. I'd also like to mention, as I do whenever I talk to people about what happened, the positive that came out of that day. I saw countless acts of random kindness...people coming from afar to help students who were struggling with what they went through. Etched in my mind, every time I come down college day, is our first day back after the event. I had an early morning class. When I first started driving, it seemed traffic was backed up. I thought maybe school was still closed. As I got closer, I saw too big Pacific Power trucks with their buckets up and a huge American flag draped between them. And for almost a mile, citizens of our community, standing shoulder to shoulder with signs of support and love for us all. Cheering us, clapping for us. It was a powerful and touching moment that I will never forget.

BFish

great article Ian:)

Dphillips2717

This piece is an honest and well done piece about how we process grieve. Thanks for saying the words many feel. It's extremely helpful and all that needs to be said.

Gimpy

Very touching but you didn't say a darn thing about gun control. In fact, you did not use the word "gun" in your entire piece. If you look up this episode in Wikipedia, you soon lose count of all the guns associated with this incident. This man was suicidal, misanthropic, bigoted (and not shy about it), and a fanatic of guns, and yet he was able to lawfully obtain a gun, over the counter, at a gun shop. Perhaps you should follow up your recollection with a piece on gun control and how the lack of it was a major factor in the slaying of nine innocent people here in Roseburg.

mworden

Poignantly vulnerable and honest. Thank you.

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