Opinion: Reflection on the strength of Roseburg in the past year

By Dora Totoian | October 28, 2016 4:04pm

On Oct. 1, 2015, one of my classmates uttered a phrase that caused me to believe I was trapped in a nightmare: “There’s been a shooting at UCC [Umpqua Community College].”

I refused to believe what I had heard and repeatedly asked the people around me if they were sure it was our community college and if there really had been a shooting. In disbelief, I added, “Well, it’s Roseburg, so there can’t be many victims…there can’t be more than one or two.” People replied, “It just happened about twenty minutes ago, and the counts are ranging from 10 to 30.”

The following days were characterized by confusion, fear, heartache and many, many tears. That beautiful autumn day, the fourth day of classes at Umpqua Community College, a troubled man stormed into his writing class and ended nine lives, injured eight other people, and took his own life.

Because it’s important to remember the UCC Nine and to never forget that they were real people with families, friends,and acquaintances whose lives and hearts were torn apart on October 1, here are their names: Lucero Alcaraz, Quinn Cooper, Lucas Eibel, Rebecka Carnes, Treven Anspach, Kim Dietz, Jason Johnson, Sarena Moore and Lawrence Levine.

Because Roseburg is such a small town, the degrees of separation between us and the victims were small. Alcaraz was my friend, and I know many people who were friends with the UCC Nine, grew up with them, or were related to them.

Consequently, this event affected and traumatized many people. However, in the midst of suffering and despair, our community united beautifully to help the families of the UCC Nine and to comfort each other.

I had always been a bit embarrassed to say that I was from Roseburg, Ore. because the town has the reputation of being a boring, backward or unsophisticated place. But after this event, I realized that while Roseburg is not perfect, I grew up in an extraordinarily loving, caring and supportive community.

Within twelve hours of the event, thousands of people gathered for a vigil in Stewart Park to comfort each other and mourn the victims. The next day, when we received the official list of casualties, we comforted each other again and were trying to do whatever we could to help the families affected. People waiting to donate blood at the Red Cross stood in a line that extended out the door, there had already been gofundme.com accounts set up for most of the victims (and many of those accounts ended up exceeding their goals) and many other fundraisers were organized.

On Oct. 1, 2016, 2,100 people participated in the Umpqua Strong run/walk. That figure represents 1/11 of the town and does not even include volunteers and those who lined the course to cheer people on and also comfort them. Though I shed many tears that day, some of them were from being in awe of the resilience of my community. The race was also extremely well-organized and raised $60,000 for ten scholarships, nine in remembrance of the UCC Nine and one in honor of the survivors.

But even more astounding than the amount of money that was raised (in a community that struggles economically) was how much people simply care—for the families and for each other.

Many of my friends and teachers let me sob uncontrollably and try to make sense of the situation many months after the event. People in Roseburg periodically ask each other, “How are you coping with the UCC event? Do you need to talk about it?” because we want each other to know that it’s alright to struggle in confronting those memories. Though the past year has been the most difficult of my life, I have never felt so loved and so cared for.

The state of Oregon with a heart in the lower left corner where Roseburg is has become a symbol to remember that day and to honor the UCC Nine. A sticker is on my car as it is on thousands of others’ cars in Roseburg. The symbol is ubiquitous, seen everywhere from t-shirts to yard signs to billboards. To us, this emblem represents that in the midst of immense hate, our community chose to love.

Our community chooses to love so that we can honor those who are no longer with us. Our community chooses to love so that we can support each other as we grieve. Our community chooses to love for nine other people who no longer have that ability. Our community chooses to love because we are Roseburg Strong.