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As Portrait of Oregon Gunman Emerges, Family ‘as Shocked as Anybody'

Family members of the man who went on a deadly shooting rampage at a rural Oregon college told NBC4 that they were in shock and were still trying to understand why he resorted to violence.

The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, opened fire inside a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon Thursday, killing at least nine people before dying in a shootout with police, authorities said. One survivor said he demanded his victims state their religion before he started shooting.

"I don't know what to say," one family member said in an interview Thursday night from Tarzana, in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. "I'm shaking right now. He was a nice guy. He put everyone before himself. It doesn't sound right because he wanted everyone to be happy."

His father, Ian Mercer, told reporters gathered outside his Tarzana home where he and his wife live, that he was "just as shocked as anybody else," but declined to answer questions.

Mercer's family asked for privacy as they dealt with the tragedy.

Former neighbors of the shooter who used to live in Torrance, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, said they instantly recognized him from the photo he posted on social media posing with a weapon.

"Yeah, that's him," Derrick McClendon said. "Stayed in number 9, him and his mom."

They recall Mercer and his mom shared a downstairs unit, then moved to Oregon about four years ago.

"Everyday I'd come home from school," Bryan Clay said. "I'd see Chris, shaved head, combat boots, camo pants and a plain brown or white shirt. He kept to himself, really didn't say much.

"He would really just walk really fast, avoid anybody who came toward him."

Those who remember him said Mercer was mild-mannered and not known to own guns.

"It's just sad to see that people just go out and kill people for no reason," Paul Rogers said.

For much of his youth, Mercer lived with his parents in Tarzana.  

"He was just a kid who to me was a little shy ... a little stunted socially," said Eileen Sandlin, whose husband tutored Mercer in science.  

Sandlin recalled a conversation with Mercer after an earlier mass killing shooting rampage, and the then-teen found it "horrifying ... he was like, yeah, he can't imagine going to school and having that happen."

After the divorce of Mercer's parents a decade ago, he stayed with his mother in the South Bay.

School Shootings Since Sandy Hook

Last updated: 10/1/2015; Source: everytown.org
Data: Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented by the press or confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement. Incidents in which guns were brought into schools but not fired, or were fired off school grounds after having been possessed in schools, were not included.Over the course of two years, we identified a total of three incidents in which a private citizen discharged a firearm at a school that was ultimately determined to be self-defense — February 4, 2013 at Martin Luther King, Jr., High School in Detroit, MI, January 30, 2014 at Eastern Florida State College, and April 7, 2014 at Eastern New Mexico University. These three incidents were not included in the analysis.

Army records show he enlisted in 2008, and was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training, but five weeks in was discharged for failing to meet minimum standards.

The Daily Breeze reported that the Mercer graduated from Switzer Learning Center in Torrance in 2009. The newspaper cited records indicating that he lived with his mother in a ground-floor apartment in Torrance from 2011 to 2013.

Mercer also was a student at El Camino College from 2010 to 2012. No incidents were registered with police during that time, school police said.

An online search of the suspect's name points to a MySpace account referencing Torrance and bearing a photo of a man with a shaved head, with what appears to be the barrel of a rifle visible alongside him.

Elsewhere on the account are images of masked gunmen and praise for the Irish Republican Army, the outlawed paramilitary group committed to overthrowing Northern Ireland and its links with Britain.

An online search using the terms "Chris Mercer Torrance" turns up a whitepages.com entry for Chris Harper-Mercer, showing a cellphone number with a 310 area code and a landline number with a 541 area code, which covers most of Oregon.

It also listed an address for an apartment in Winchester, Oregon, which is about four miles north of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where the shooting took place about 10:30 a.m.

A neighbor in Oregon, Bronte Harte, told The Associated Press that Mercer "seemed really unfriendly" and would "sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light."

Harte said a woman she believed to be Mercer's mother also lived upstairs and was "crying her eyes out" Thursday.

The suspect was killed when police engaged him in a shootout, but it was unclear if he was fatally wounded by officers.

The shooting left seven other people wounded, according to authorities.

Authorities shed no light on his motive and said they were investigating.

Annette Arreola, Jorge Diaz, Kate Larsen, Patrick Healy and NBC4 wire services contributed to this report.

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