A Seventh-day Adventist mother was among those killed in a shooting rampage that targeted Christians at a community college in the U.S. state of Oregon, her pastor said Friday.
Sarena Moore, 44, a college student and member of the Grants Pass Seventh-day Adventist Church, died along with at least eight other people in the attack by a lone gunman on Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday.
“As a church, we are in shock, spending much time in prayer and also considering ways to support and comfort her two adult sons,” Christian Martin, pastor of the Grants Pass church, told the Adventist Review. “She loved her two sons dearly.”
In addition to the nine people who were slain, at least seven people were injured in the attack at the rural college in southern Oregon.
The gunman, Christopher Harper Mercer, 26, was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police who responded to emergency calls from the campus.
The gunman’s motive was unclear, But several witnesses told news media that he opened fire in classrooms, ordered people to the floor, and then told them to stand up and state their religion.
“If they said they were Christians, they were shot again,” said Janet Willis, citing a conversation with her 18-year-old granddaughter, Ana Boylan, who was shot in the back, the Los Angeles Times reported.
She said Boylan survived by lying on the floor and pretending to be dead. The teen was recovering in the hospital Friday.
Moore, born July 8, 1971, decided to give her heart to Jesus during an evangelistic series in the Hayfork Seventh-day Adventist Church in the church’s Northern California Conference in 2005, Martin said. She was baptized by pastor Rob Kearbey.
“She was loved right into the family of God,” Martin said.
Moore later moved to Oregon and joined the Grants Pass church. She was in her third semester studying business at Umpqua Community College.
“She was thrilled to enroll,” Martin said. “She counted it as a direct answer to prayer. She praised the Lord for opening doors for her to pursue a degree in business.”
He said Moore was regarded by many church members to be a woman of prayer with an especially kind heart.
“She was known as a strong firm believer in prayer,” he said. “She often asked for prayer and prayed for others herself. Though she didn’t have many possessions, she had a big heart and would try to help those less fortunate than herself.”
He noted that Moore often lived her faith on her Facebook page, writing messages such as “Love how God can bless us,” “Please pray for me!” and “Thank God!”
If Moore was targeted by the gunman for being a Christian, he said, then “she demonstrated her faith in a way that very few would feel prepared to do.”
“It was an act of courage and faith that our God carefully noted, and her faith will become sight at the resurrection morning,” he said.
Adventist Church leaders offered condolences to those affected by the shooting and asked church members to lift them up in prayer.
“It is difficult to believe that a great nation like the United States must once again mourn the loss of God’s children whose lives have been senselessly taken at the hands of a mass shooting,” said Daniel R. Jackson, president of the Adventist Church in North America. “Surely, this nation, that has become a beacon of hope and opportunity for scores of people, can be a land where all feel safe from the violence of firearms.”
He called on U.S. society to “engage in open, honest, civil, and productive conversation about finding solutions to put and end once and for all to gun violence.”
“We pray that this tragedy will bring about much needed change and address the pandemic of gun violence,” he said in a statement (PDF).
Adventist world church president Ted N.C. Wilson said his heart went out to those who are hurting from the violence.
“Please join me in praying for the families and friends of these precious young people who died for their faith and all who have been affected by this tragedy,” he said on his Facebook page.