Dec 13, 2012

People try to make sense of shooting; prayers urged for victims, gunman



(CNS photos/Steve Dipaola, Reuters)

By Clarice Keating and Ed Langlois
Catholic News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- People all over the Portland area are trying to make sense of a Dec. 11 tragedy caused by a gunman opening fire on a mall busy with shoppers.

Educators at La Salle College Preparatory, located less than a mile from Clackamas Town Center, helped students focus their prayer on those affected by the shooting.

After a masked man killed two people, injured another and then turned the gun on himself, La Salle was notified almost instantaneously by students and parents who were shopping and working at the mall.

"As soon as we got the information, we locked down the perimeter," said Tom Dudley, principal of the Catholic school.

Some students at the school witnessed different parts of the events, and most want to remain anonymous.

Hannah Baggs, a La Salle freshman, told The Oregonian daily newspaper of Portland that she looked directly at the shooter -- now identified as 22-year-old Jacob Roberts of Portland -- as she left the mall. He was wearing a mask and "carrying something heavy," she said.

"As we try to make some sense of the tragic events that happened yesterday, it is important to be mindful and sensitive of the needs of each person in our school, remembering that most of us experienced at least some degree of fear, anxiety, and helplessness upon learning of what was happening," Dudley told students the day after the shooting.

Gary Hortsch, director of campus ministry, began a school liturgy by addressing the tragedy.

"No less than a mile away from where we are gathered, people's lives were forever changed," he said. "Slowly we have started the process of telling our stories of where we were as we try to make sense of violence that ensued. Some members of our community were at the mall when the chaos erupted.

"Others of us had family members and loved ones we knew either working or visiting at the mall. All of us knew that there was the potential for this tragedy to directly impact the people we hold dear to our hearts as we contacted each other to be sure everyone was safe," he added.

The shooting victims were Steve Forsyth, 45, of West Linn, and Cindy Yuille, 54, of Portland, who were both killed, and Kristina Shevchenko, 15, who was taken to Oregon Health and Science University hospital in serious condition.

Dispatchers began receiving 911 calls around 3:30 p.m., when Roberts entered the mall wearing a facemask and carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.

The mall was still closed Dec. 13 as the investigation continued, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's office.

Don Gainer hurried through bustling Clackamas Town Center Dec. 11 to pick up boxes of chocolates for his sister. Sometimes, he would bring grandchildren to the mall. On this day, he was alone.

After he stepped off a down escalator at about 3:30 p.m. and headed to the candy shop, shots rang out loud and clear above him. He instinctively dove for the ground and took shelter behind a cell phone kiosk. A 30-something woman froze in her tracks, standing in the open. Gainer, an 82-year-old member of Ascension Parish in Portland, dashed to the woman and helped her get to the ground and take refuge.

In all, Gainer heard about a dozen shots. A glass pane up above, near the Macy's entrance, shattered, sending a cascade of glass to the floor.

A woman who worked in a salon motioned to Gainer and others to come into her shop for safety. The group stayed low and hustled to a back room. It was eerily quiet, as some in the group sought to make cell phone calls and were frustrated at blockages -- many of the 10,000 people trapped at the mall also were trying to contact loved ones.

About 45 minutes later, a heavily armed SWAT team came by and escorted the group out of the mall.

Gainer, a volunteer at his parish's Society of St. Vincent de Paul council, came for duty as usual Dec. 12 and didn't say much about his experience until someone asked.

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon issued a statement lamenting "the tragedy of violence resulting in death, wounding and terror."

The Rev. LeRoy Haynes, president of the organization's board of directors, called on believers to pray for victims' families and loved ones and for the perpetrator's family.

Rev. Haynes gave thanks for police, medical teams and mall staff for courage and quick response, "making clear that we will not be paralyzed by fear in the face of sudden violence."

Rev. Haynes cited lack of resources to treat mental illness. "At this time in our society," he said, "we must be willing to tackle these hard issues together in order to foster healing and help prevent future tragedies."

  • Keating and Langlois are staff writers at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore.