Before Oct. 1, I was in the habit of introducing my hometown with a bit of apologetic nonchalance. “I’m from Roseburg. It’s an hour and a half south of Eugene. Pretty small. You’ve probably passed through on I-5.”
I now envision a future where I introduce my hometown, and a bell of recognition dings in people’s minds — Roseburg, a place where one mass shooting among far too many shootings has devastated a community.
I grew up in and around Umpqua Community College. As a young girl, I learned how to swim and jump off the diving board at UCC’s swimming pool. My dad attended nursing school at UCC in the ’90s.
My high school graduation took place at Jacoby Auditorium on UCC’s campus. I spent my first year of college saving money and working a cashier job while taking calculus and chemistry at UCC.
It’s surreal to see my little hometown campus bombarded with unspeakable violence and then descended upon by the entire nation.
I hate to admit this, especially now, but I’ve harbored embarrassment of my hometown. I know it’s a sentiment many former Roseburg residents share. It still feels like a betrayal to say it.
I moved away in 2009, fleeing what I perceived to be an overly religious, painfully conservative town with an anti-environmental undertone and a lack of “things to do.” I was 19. The world seemed so big, and Roseburg seemed so small.
On Oct. 1, I found myself murmuring over and over, aware of how cliché it sounded, “This kind of thing couldn’t happen in Roseburg.” My eyes roamed my computer screen in disbelief. My throat caught and my mind immediately went to unfathomable places, terrified at the remote possibility that any of my Roseburg loved ones could be on campus.
I called my dad. He answered. “I’m not anywhere near UCC,” he said before anything else. I started crying.
I ache for those who won’t ever again get to hear their loved one’s voice on the other end of the line.
The thing is, despite my initial reaction, Roseburg is the kind of place where tragedy like this can happen. We live in a time when a school shooting can happen anywhere and at any moment. This is the terrifying reality.
In the days following the shooting, I heard stories of Oregon schools evacuated because of bomb threats, rude behavior in classrooms scrutinized for any hint of violence, students hesitant to go to school because school doesn’t feel safe.
I hate that we feel this fear. I hate the thought that I should come up with a plan for the next shooting, just in case it happens here. I hate that this loss is only one in a vast sea of losses to armed gunmen on a rampage.
We have a gun problem. We have an anger and entitlement problem. We have a mental health problem.
But most of all, we have a passivity problem in which we sit idly by, just waiting for the next shooting to happen.
I know my community, and I know a lot of people in Roseburg won’t agree with me when I ask and advocate for better gun laws as we move forward. I realize it won’t change many minds. I disagree with you, Roseburg, but I love you. I hope you can still love me, too.
I am amazed by my community and how it has come together since Oct. 1, united to memorialize the people we’ve lost and celebrate what we still have. The outpouring of love, everything from donated coffee and pizza to songs, fundraisers and poems, is deeply inspiring.
My mind roams over treasured memories of home — the gorgeous view of the Umpqua Valley from my dad’s house, rolling hills enshrouding a cozy community; the Umpqua Valley Arts Center in fall, bright colors with a backdrop of soccer fields; the grassy hill of Stewart Park with the Umpqua River and its clear water flowing on.
Today I can say that I’m incredibly proud to be from Roseburg. I stand Roseburg strong with UCC and the wonderful people of Douglas County. We will get through this.