April 1, 2016
It’s been six months since the quiet town of Roseburg, Oregon was suddenly thrust onto the world’s center stage for the horrific shooting that took place on the Umpqua Community College campus on October 1, 2015.
Although it’s not a hot topic for the national news anymore, there are plenty of reminders around town that it’s still remembered and the rally cry of “Roseburg Strong” or “UCC Strong” or “I am UCC” is prevalent throughout the community. You don’t have to look very far to see signs, decals, bumper stickers, metal artwork, banners, etc. supporting the college and the community.
Yesterday, I drove up into the Cascades and remembered that I was driving the exact road the day of the UCC shooting. It was a long winding road that traveled through a vibrant green forest and paralleled a beautiful creek that could tell you stories all night long. I had Koa, my pudelpointer puppy, with me and we had planned a date with some forest grouse on an old blocked-off road. The long drive would be worth it.. I remembered those very thoughts. When we got to the ridge top we found a blue grouse that would serve as Koa’s introduction to Cascade grouse hunting. She wasn’t sure what to think about the grouse and I had to be patient with her as she was beginning to connect the dots and figure things out. It was early and we had several other places to check out.
I drove further up the road and came to a pull out where we would take another walk into the woods. I got my gear together and began to follow Koa down an old logging road when my cell phone chirped alerting me to a text message. It was a group message from the Roseburg High School Volleyball Team that said, “Regarding the UCC shooting: (coach A) and (coach B) are ok.”
WHAT? WHAT SHOOTING? A SHOOTING AT UCC?
I felt a cold chill sweep through my body as I began to fumble for Jeanine’s cell phone number in my contacts list. I dropped the truck tailgate down and loaded Koa in her kennel. She didn’t understand why she had to kennel when we just got here. I cased my shotgun as I waited for Jeanine to answer her cell phone. My wife of 25 years was not answering her cell phone and the ringing went to voice mail. I tried to call her office desk phone and I got the same result. More ringing and then voice mail. I called home in case she went home for some reason. Again, more ringing then voice mail. I left multiple messages. “CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, LET ME KNOW YOU’RE ALRIGHT!!!”
Where was she? Was she involved in the shooting? Was she a victim? Did she survive?
I got a phone call from my office and everyone was listening to the local radio station for details. The campus was still in lockdown and not a lot of detail was known. I fired off a quick text to Pastor Ron Laeger of Wellspring Bible Fellowship, “Plz pray for Jeanine’s safety”.
I turned the truck around and headed down the mountain knowing I’d be out of cell service for another 45 minutes. It was a long drive down the mountain with a lot of time to think. I remember feeling several different moods as I sped down the mountain. I started out worried, about the unknown, the what if’s crept into my thoughts. Suddenly being a single parent when Jessica so badly needs a mom in her formative teenage high school years. I thought about losing a partner and best friend. What were the last words I said to her that morning when I left the house? Did she know I loved her? Tears rolled down my face, along the side of my nose.
Sadness turned to anger. I thought of the many times we discussed having a handgun for personal defense. We both agreed it was a good idea but, I was the only one who acted upon it and took the safety classes to get a Concealed Handgun License (CHL). For Jeanine, there was never a convenient time to enroll in the class. It just wasn’t important enough at the time yet, this was the exact thing it was needed for. Not to be a hero and not to be a victim, just to be a survivor. What was so important that she couldn’t find the time to take the class with me?
I remember the last thing I felt was denial. “NO, this cannot be happening! She is going to be just fine!” Wipe your eyes, take a deep breath and get down off this mountain.
In about 35 minutes I was back in cell service and my phone lit up. I pulled over on the highway shoulder. I had multiple text messages from friends all around the country that heard about the shooting and were concerned about us. I rapidly sifted through the messages and got a call from Jeanine, SHE WAS OKAY! It turns out she went across the hall to notify a class about the shooting and for everyone to get inside and lock the doors. She left her cell phone back at her desk and was out of communication all that time until an officer came to escort them out of the building. I felt a huge wave of relief go through me and I thanked God and sobbed over the steering wheel.
I drove down to the Douglas County Fairgrounds where UCC students and employees were being delivered from the campus by buses. Jeanine was busy helping a young mother get reunited with her child as they got separated during the campus lockdown. We drove them home and the buzz of keeping busy; caring after someone elses needs, finally subsided and the gravity of the days events finally gripped us both and the emotions gave way to tears.
After the incident at UCC, other schools, government agencies, businesses, etc. took a hard look at how they would address active shooter issues on their premises. Not a pleasant thought but, unfortunately a growing concern. A commonly shared theme is: Run if you can, Hide if you can’t run, and Fight the shooter as a last resort. There were students and employees at UCC that would’ve given anything that day to have a gun in their possession rather than hide under a desk or in a closet hoping the police would arrive before they became victims.
A few months later, Jeanine and I enrolled in a CHL course. It was a refresher for me and a first-time for her. The class was taught by Learn To Shoot (LTS) Tactical and was a very good course with classroom instruction and live fire on a range. When I took the class the first time, I was able to get my license a few weeks later. This time, because of the UCC shooting, the demand for CHLs had skyrocketed. Since the day after the shooting, there has been a three month backlog of reservations before getting your CHL office appointment at the Douglas County Courthouse. That tells me not everyone wants to rely solely on 911 and feel helpless hiding under a desk waiting to be a victim.