Two Roseburg police detectives heard the 10:38 a.m. call of shots fired at the Umpqua Community College and raced there Thursday morning. They were about five miles away on another case, and were the first law enforcement to arrive on campus six minutes after the initial 911 call.
As the detectives parked their car outside Snyder Hall and approached the southeast corner of the building, they found Christopher Harper-Mercer standing just at the outside door to the building.
Harper-Mercer, 26, immediately fired shots at the officers, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said.
"He initiated the gunfire, '' the sheriff said.
The two detectives, partly using their car and another building across a breezeway as cover, returned fire until Harper-Mercer suddenly retreated, according to the sheriff. The detectives were about 50 to 75 feet from the suspect, the sheriff estimated.
Harper-Mercer ducked around a breezeway.
"They found him laying in the hallway, outside the classroom,'' the sheriff said.
The detectives found Harper-Mercer still alive and handcuffed him, the sheriff said. The 26-year-old died at the scene. The state medical examiner had determined the cause of death was suicide from a self-inflicted wound.
By the time the detectives had arrived on campus, Harper-Mercer already had shot his classmates and a teacher with a handgun. Nine people were killed and nine wounded in Oregon's deadliest mass shooting.
The sheriff credited the quick actions of the detectives, who are not typically armed with long guns. Within two minutes of their arrival on campus, they radioed to dispatch of the exchange of gunfire. Two minutes later, they alerted, "suspect down.''
"They responded exactly the way we expect officers to respond in this type of incident,'' Hanlin said. "I'm fairly convinced had they not intervened as quickly as they did we would have lost dozens of more lives.''
Harper-Mercer was found with five handguns and one rifle. Police recovered a flak jacket lined with steel plates, lying beside his rifle, according to federal officials.
By the time the two detectives had the gunman handcuffed, dozens of officers, firefighters and paramedics had responded to help evacuate students and rush the wounded to waiting ambulances.
Law enforcement responses to active shooter incidents have evolved over the years. While years ago, officers would surround a location and wait until a tactical squad was available to move in, officers in recent years have been trained to move in as quickly as possible to stop a shooter.
"The idea is to put together a hasty team of two or more officers and you go in and look for the threat,'' Hanlin said.
The two detectives had no time to wait, and moments after they arrived on campus, got into the gunfight.
For the detectives to recognize the importance of not holding back, but going in and stopping the threat, Hanlin said, "in my mind makes them heroes.''
-- Maxine Bernstein
Correction: An earlier version of the story gave an incorrect location for the gunman's death. He died at the scene of the shooting.