ROSEBURG, Oregon — One detective served in the Marine Corps; the other is an Air Force veteran. They were among the first four officers to approach the building at the Oregon community college where shooter Chris Harper-Mercer took nine lives last week in the nation’s latest mass shooting.
It was 10:44 a.m. The detectives instinctively ran toward the sound of gunshots. The shooter stood in the doorway of Umpqua Community College’s Snyder Hall, where at least 35 students were still in a classroom.
Muzzle flashes signaled the .9mm-rounds Harper-Mercer directed at Roseburg Police Det. Sgt. Joe Kaney and Det. Todd Spingath, according to an account provided Wednesday by Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg.
Wesenberg, in announcing that the force used against the shooter was justified, offered the first details about how the carnage came to an end.
Kaney and Spingath — about 15 yards away — “felt they had a good target” and returned fire from their .40-caliber handguns, Wesenberg said.
They missed twice but one bullet struck Harper-Mercer in the right side, said Wesenberg, without revealing which detective fired the shot.
“These men saved lives that day,” Wesenberg said.
Harper-Mercer went back into a classroom and shot and killed himself shortly after being shot, Wesenberg said.
“He would not have been able to go much further” after the detective shot him, Wesenberg said.
The plainclothes detectives, who were about five miles away, and two state police troopers were the first to respond to 911 calls about the mass shooting.
“I want everyone to know of the selfless acts of these officers,” said the district attorney, adding that the detectives were not wearing bulletproof vests. “They had little regard for their own personal safety and they saved many, many lives that day with their heroic acts.”
Roseburg Police Chief Jim Burge said the actions of his officers likely prevented more bloodshed.
“I have spoken with both officers and I can tell you they do not want to be heralded as heroes,” Burge said. “They feel they are only first responder who got there first and did a job they were trained and entrusted to do.”
Burge said the officers want the public’s attention to remain on the victims and their families.
Marine Corps vet Kaney has been employed as a Roseburg police officer for 23 years, Burge said. In 2005, the detective was awarded a medal of honor and purple heart by the Oregon Peace Officers Association after a shooting in which he suffered an ankle wound.
Spingath is an Air Force veteran with 16 years on the job. He was awarded a medal of valor for his actions in the same 2005 shooting in which Kaney was wounded.
The gunman was discharged from the Army in 2008 after a suicide attempt, a law enforcement official told CNN. The Army acknowledged the discharge, which took place one month into basic training, but wouldn’t comment on the reason for his dismissal.
Last week, the gunmen went building to building on the picturesque college campus, firing his gun, killing nine people and wounding nine others before taking his own life moments after being wounded by police.