Kiwi witnesses US college shooting

Jaylen Gerrand
Jaylen Gerrand

The identity of the alleged gunman who opened fire at a college in the United States has been confirmed as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer – a conservative Republican who showed disdain for organised religion.

Harper was armed with three pistols and a rifle as he went on the rampage at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing 10 people and injuring seven.

A 20-year-old Auckland man who witnessed the shooting has been left "very stressed and traumatised" by the ordeal, his New Zealand basketball coach Jeff Green told 3 News.

Former Westlake Boys High School student Jaylen Gerrand was standing outside the school's library when "he heard the gunshots and ran," Mr Green said.

"A guy next to him got shot, killed, as he was running away, he saw another three people being shot and killed. He's very traumatised at this time, and you'd expect that. Something that is horrific.

"He saw four people shot dead in front of him. It's something that is being played back in his mind over and over, something that he doesn't want to remember but is so real."

He is now being treated in a trauma centre, Mr Green said.

Mr Gerrand, who had played basketball for the Waitakere Supercity Rangers, had only been in Oregon a number of weeks.

His mother, Monette Gerrand, said the family had been "devastated" by the news.

"We can report Jaylen has not been injured, but was involved in today's events. We are hoping to travel to be with him," she said.

"Jaylen has made many friends in his short time in Oregon and wants to be able to be there for them."

Waitakere Supercity Rangers spokesperson Aik Ho told 3 News apart from a scraped knee Mr Gerrand was unhurt – despite earlier reports he had been injured.

"Obviously he's okay physically, but mentally this is something he's now really going to have to deal with," Mr Ho said.

Mr Gerrand had just started a scholarship at the college. Two other Kiwis were also supposed to have been there, but had opted to stay behind and finish the New Zealand secondary schools tournament, which is currently being held in Palmerston North.

Initial reports had put the death toll as high as 15, with 20 injured, but US officials later lowered those numbers.

A visibly angry President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for gun control after the shooting, blasting Congress for its failure to act in the face of "routine" mass killings.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said 10 people were killed and seven were injured, several critically. He said the identity of the victims would not be released for 24 to 48 hours.

Student Cassandra Welding was in an adjacent room when the shooting broke out.

"I probably heard a good 35 to 40 shots," Welding told US media.

She saw a fellow student being shot after opening the classroom door to see what was happening, she said.

"Then we locked the doors, turned off the lights and ... we were all pretty much in panic mode and called 911 (emergency services) and our parents and (said) 'I love you because we didn't know what would happen, if those were our last words."

Voicing his anger and sadness at the latest loss of life, Obama threw down the gauntlet to legislators - and the people who vote for them - on the thorny issue of gun control.

"Somehow this has become routine," said the President. "We become numb to this."

"We can actually do something about it, but we're going to have to change our laws," said a stony-faced Obama.

"This is not something I can do myself. I have to have a Congress and state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this."

"It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun," Obama said.

"Prayers are not enough," he added. "This is a political choice we make."

Police were alerted to the shooting shortly after 10.30am and rushed to the site as it was still unfolding.

"Upon arriving there, they located the shooter in one of the buildings," Hanlin said, adding that police exchanged fire with the gunman who was later confirmed dead.

It was not yet known if the shooter, Mercer, was a student at the college.

Authorities said investigators were examining social media postings thought to belong to him. Several reports said he may have shared his intentions online beforehand.

Other reports said police recovered a mobile phone at the scene, presumably Mercer's, that contained messages linked to the massacre.

3 News /AFP