Jasmyne Davis was in her computer class at Umpqua Community College last Thursday morning preparing to submit an assignment, as dismissal was five minutes away. Suddenly there was the sound of a gun shot in the classroom next door.
Students froze, some not realizing what they’d just heard. But Davis – a sophomore point guard from South Los Angeles – knew what it was immediately. The class heard what sounded like two men arguing, and then multiple gun shots rang out.
“I hit the floor, and so did everyone else,” Davis said. “By then you could smell the gun powder.”
Davis’ teacher knocked on the door that joined the two classrooms, and asked if everyone was OK. There was no answer. Then one of the students opened the main door and went out into the hallway, where she was shot.
“She fell back inside the classroom, and someone pulled the door shut, which was locked,” Davis said.
While shooter Sean Harper-Mercer rampaged next door, Davis laid on the floor and pulled out her cell phone. She called coach Dave Stricklin.
“I was in my office, which was across campus from where the shooting took place,” said Stricklin, who has coached at the school for 21 years. “I didn’t know what was going on when she called.”
With the classmate who had been shot lying there and gun shots ringing out, Davis was panicking. So was Stricklin.
“For a while when I was on the phone with her, I thought I would be the last person to talk to her,” Stricklin said.
But he kept those thoughts to himself.
“On the inside I was scared and worried that Jaz wasn’t going to survive, but on the outside I was her coach,” Stricklin said. “Players often reflect the attitude and demeanor of their coach, so I tried to sound confident and positive and not get emotional.”
“I just tried to coach her: stay low, keep your head down, don’t panic. And she told me what she was seeing and hearing. It was just like we were in a game and were talking while someone else was shooting free throws.”
Within the hour, the gun man’s standoff with police ended with his suicide. He had killed nine others and wounded seven.
When police finally let students leave the building, Davis made a beeline for Strickin’s office.
“I saw her coming up the hill,” Stricklin said. “The police stopped her and at first wouldn’t let her go.”
Davis was finally allowed to pass.
“When I did see her for the first time afterwards, I hugged her as tight as I could,” Stricklin said. “It was by far the best win we ever experienced together.”
Less than a minute after Davis walked into Stricklin’s office, teammate Shaunta Jackson burst in. Jackson, a forward who rooms with Davis, had walked out of the classroom building just before the shooting began, and had texted Davis to look out the window.
“Shaunta came into the office and she was crying,” Stricklin said. “It was really emotional.”
Besides the carnage, the randomness of the act caused raw feelings.
“This was a day where only two of our players had classes, but it could have been any of us in that classroom,” Stricklin said.
The shooting is grossly out of character for rural Roseburg, Oregon, with a population of 26,000, and it was the first mass shooting at UCC.
After a schoolwide candlelight vigil that night, the Riverhawks had a team meeting in the women’s basketball office.
“We talked about what had happened, and let everyone get it off their chests,” Stricklin said. “Then we talked about the need to bond together and be closer. Just calling people a team doesn’t make them a team.”
Team members had been in town less than three weeks, and classes had begun just three days before the shooting.
The next day, the Riverhawks went out to lunch together. Stricklin said it was the first step in healing.
“They were able to laugh and smile, and that was important,” he said.
Stricklin has built a winning program over his years at UCC. The Riverhawks have won the Southern Region of the Northwest Athletic Conference the last two years, which isn’t unusual. But an incident like the shooting is a first. Stricklin said the team is chartering into the unknown now.
“On paper we have a chance to be really good again, but have absolutely no way of anticipating how this will effect everyone mentally and/or emotionally,” he said. “We’re going to be reminded of what happened every day, whether we are at home or on the road. How will that effect everyone? Will is bring us closer or will it become a distraction or sorts? At this point we have no way of knowing.”
“As competitors we often equate basketball games as ‘life or death’ endeavors, but we’ve been unequivocally reminded that this is not true. We all like to say ‘ball is life,’ but in reality, life is life, and many on our team realized, possibly for the first time, how fragile life can be.”
For Davis, the incident is rich with irony. A Washington Prep High School graduate, she grew up in a gang-infested area of Los Angeles that is among those experiencing a significant spike in violence the last three months. She had been somewhat relieved to return to college to get away from that intense atmosphere.
“I came back here expecting to get away from that,” Davis said.
Stricklin has been overcome with gratitude, and said he was also extremely humbled by the actions of his players.
“I just see the big picture, and to think that two 19-year-old African-American kids were hugging on a white guy……..people underestimate the bond between players and coaches, and players and players,” Stricklin said.
He was also floored at the number of phone and text messages he received, checking to see if he was alright.
“I heard from every player I’ve coached over the last ten years, and many more from 15 and 20 years ago,” Stricklin said.
The UCC campus will be closed for a week while police complete their investigations. But the Riverhawks have found a nearby high school gym where they can practice. They had their first session after Friday’s team lunch.
“They needed some normalcy,” Stricklin said. “They needed to come play and not be stressed.”