Chris Harper Mercer

Chris Harper Mercer: Not a Zero

By Jan Shannon

He was a son, a student, a person. Not a zero. No one is a zero.

In the wake of the latest mass shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., well-meaning hyperbole is flying thick and fast, with the Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin leading the way. Hamlin said at a press conference on Thursday, “Let me be very clear: I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act. Media will get the name confirmed in time, but you will never hear me mention his name.”

OK, I get it. There is an idea surfacing, which appears to be true in this case, that these types of mass shootings are an effort by the shooter to gain fame, and Hamlin, like many others, does not want to give Chris Harper-Mercer the limelight. Fine, yes, let’s try to avoid copycat killings at all costs. Yes. Hamlin’s passion and logic I can agree with, but Michael Daly at the Daily Beast, among others, takes it too far. In an article dated October 2, 2015, just one day after Laurel Harper and Ian Mercer, Chris’ parents, lost their son, Daly describes Chris as a ‘zero.’

“Forget the zero and remember the hero.” Daly wrote. Daly’s article extols the virtues of the brave Army war vet, Chris Mintz, who put his body between the gun and his fellow students, and rightly calls Mintz a hero. However, in trying to lift up the courageous actions of Mintz, Daly discounts Harper-Mercer’s memory with the ugly moniker ‘zero’ and that doesn’t sit right with me.

We are learning more about Harper-Mercer’s life, his nervous and shy ways, his dislike of loud noises, his short stint in the Army, and much of what the media will tell us will be spun sideways to make him look like a monster. Chris Harper-Mercer was not a monster, not a nothing, not a zero. When we allow cruel phrases like ‘forget the zero and remember the hero’ to stand without challenge, we only perpetrate the very problems in our society that create the Chris Harper-Mercer’s.

Lonely young men, with few friends and stunted social skills, are ignored and belittled by our society. All it takes is one scornful laugh by a Big man On Campus, and pretty soon they are the object of ridicule and side-eye glances from all the pretty girls. Downward goes the spiral; the weak are treated worse and worse until one day they break. Some quietly attempt suicide, and everyone says, “How sad.” Others, like Chris Harper Mercer, lash out against the system that has sent them to the bottom. To call Chris a zero is to throw gasoline on the fire of vitriol that already consumes far too many in American culture.

Chris Harper-Mercer was not a zero, he was a person; with thoughts and feelings just like everyone else. With intrinsic value and worth, just like everyone else. Beloved by God, Chris Harper Mercer is not a zero, and I will lift up his name with sadness for what could have been. Chris Harper Mercer: God’s workmanship, our failure.


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Alan Eschenbacher

Thanks for the message Jan, Indeed he is child of God. The reasons for actions in any of these cases may never be known… but I can still recall the rage I felt after being bullied in 7th grade, and the revenge my 13 year old mind thought of was pretty bad. Fortunately I was stopped mid-rage by a caring adult … too bad this man didn’t receive any care like that.

Jan Shannon

A lot of my conversations around this issue have been about the “care” that you mention. How much care? What kind? Voluntary or required?
Thanks for your comment!

Sam Fletcher

Oh please. He’s the definition of a monster. Lots of people are feeling the pressure of life in late-capitalist America, and the vast majority of them are no less decent people to each other than they would be otherwise. The killer actually cites the media attention given to other mass killers in the ravings he left before his crime as a primary motivation for doing what he did. Who the F$%# does that? Only a terrible, monstrous psychopath.

You mention his intrinsic value as one of god’s creatures. Let me ask: If there is no god, does he still have intrinsic value? And if not, does he have extrinsic value in the way he lived his life and what acts of kindness and compassion he did for others? I don’t think so. There’s no evidence that god exists, let alone taking an active role in participating in our society (the world would look so much different, for one).

I’m tired of these worthless men. I’m tired of their actions being blamed on “mental illness”, castigating along with them millions of people who suffer from actual mental illness and who still manage to live compassionate, harmless lives. I’m tired of the media attention on the motivations and histories of these worthless young men. I don’t want to know their names, I don’t want to know what made them pick up a gun and shoot people.

I want to know how to keep them from getting guns. I want radars or xray machines set up in public areas to give us a warning they’re coming. I want security guards armed with high-tech non-lethal weapons to incapacitate them before they fire a shot. I want legislation that only permits the use of firearms with smart tech that can be switched off in public places. These technological solutions already exist and we simply need the willpower to fund their installment and train our police and security forces to prioritize early detection of killers. There is literally no other effective solution.

Yeah, we’re all mostly getting ground under capitalism right now. The vast majority of us are still managing to be good people. The vast numbers of us who suffer from depression aren’t taking it out on others. There has always been worthless men who can’t control their aggression and there always will be. We need to figure out how to mitigate harm. We don’t need to care what happens to their eternal souls. We don’t even need to ban all guns (though a nationwide ban on bullets would be kind of amazing). We need to do what us humans are best at: Putting our noggins together to come up with rational solutions to restraining or harnessing nature. Mass killers are a product of nature and the solution to mitigating the harm is going to be like the solution to mitigating the harm of earthquakes, disease, or wild animals: Science.


Sam, I gotta side with you on this one. I understand being liberal and open minded, but not to the point where your brain falls out. (sorry Jan)

I can’t apply this line of logic to this guy any more than I can Idi Amin, Ze-Dong Mao or the ever popular Adolf. The reality is, as far as I understand it, some people even when receiving intervention should not have access to guns, axes or toothpicks. Our government needs to divert money from the colonizing war machine to facilities that can care for those people. They shouldn’t be on our streets.

Would this guy have been different if he had received psychiatric help at a very early age? Who knows. We need to divert money from our colonizing war machine to QUALITY mental and emotional education that is free to EVERYONE not just those with the money.

Jan I do agree with you that no one wins in these traumatic situation. And perhaps it can be viewed that we are all responsible as enablers. Children, hell people in general are dead and being murdered and will continue to be murdered until you and I say NO MORE! and demand that our government starts doing all the right things that they should have been doing all along but we enabled them get away with not doing. Are we accessories?

Jan Shannon

Brien, are you implying that my “brain has fallen out?” But you go on to say that we should not use terms like mental illness to lump these shooters in with all mentally ill people? Aren’t you cutting with both sides of that knife? Implying that I am either ignorant or stupid (brainless) to care about the Chris Harper-Mercer’s of this world is first cruel and then rude. Because I care, because in my anger and frustration with our American gun-laden society I do not stoop to name calling, I am “brainless?” Hm. How exactly does this fit into your value system? Is this what Affinity teaches? I’m confused.


Sorry Jan. I didn’t mean any harm, or was I suggesting that I thought you were brainless. On the contrary I admire you very much because of your intellect and ability to see things that others sometime miss.

I thought I was continuing our teasing each other like when you asked if I had been drinking. I assumed you were teasing me and thought we had that type of rapport. My smart ass remark was not specifically directed at you, but more as a generalization. But I can understand how you would have taken it as directed at only you.

Please accept my sincerest apology.

Jan Shannon

Ah, I see. Well, maybe now is a good time to tell you that when I asked on Facebook if you had been drinking, I wasn’t teasing. I was actually curious as to the amount of alcohol you had in your system when you posted the AF ad. Not that I’m against drinking, I love a good Irish Coffee, but the ad just seemed out of place in that fb thread, hence my question.
As for teasing, perhaps the use of a winking emoticon would help me know when you were kidding. Or not. At any rate, I expect to get blasted on these comments, so it was no surprise to me that people disagreed with my writing/opinion on Harper-Mercer.
And, yes, I do hope that we have the kind of rapport that allows for good-natured teasing, Butthead. 😉 (see what I did there?)


Thats OK Jan. I really wasn’t teasing either 🙂 xD haha gots ya!

Alan Eschenbacher

I have read these comments with interest and I think this problem and many others is a product of “how” we think … the following is my paraphrasing of what “dualistic thinking is” from a Franciscan by the name of Richard Rohr … Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison.(either/or, good/bad, right/wrong etc.) And for some reason, once anyone (including you and me!) compare or label things (that is, “judge” them), we almost always conclude that one is good and the other is less good or even bad. In the first half of life (and some people never leave this half of life), this provides ego boundaries and clear goals, which creates a nice clean “provisional personality.” But it is not close to the full picture that we call truth.
Dualistic thinking works only for a while , it gets us started in life, gives a “jumping off point”, but if we are honest, it stops being helpful in most real-life situations. It is fine for teenagers to think that there is some moral or “supernatural” superiority to their chosen baseball team, their army, their ethnic group, or even their religion or gender; but one hopes that later in life they learn that such polarity is just an agreed-upon game. Your frame should grow larger as you move toward the Big Picture in which one God creates all and loves all, both Dodgers and Yankees, blacks and whites, Palestinians and Jews, gays and straights, Americans and Afghanis.


Thanks for your comment Alan.
IMO whether or not God or Gods in general view all of us with equal love and value is a moot point when considering that the problem is: HUMANS DON’T, and until the God’s intervene humans should take the situation in hand and come up with a solution on their own before more lives (killers and victims) are destroyed.

We have reduced this travesty to “who’s a zero” or “a monster” because we feel slightly more in control of that debate when compared to facing and dealing with the actual massacre’s.

Most of us (myself included) are so overwhelm with frustration with sadness and some of us with outrage, and with good reason.

IMO now is the time to be courageously fearful and push past our coping debates and come together united despite our differences.
Because I don’t believe anyone or any God is going to do it for us and maybe that is the way it is supposed to be. What better way to grow in spirituality, what better way to grow closer to God than for us humans to stop running and just submit.

Submit to our higher nature the one that solves these and other seemingly insurmountable problems, because thats what it means to be truly human, and to emulate and walk in the footsteps of the Gods.


Sam that was a brilliant point you made about no longer referring to murderous people as “mentally ill.”

No wonder there is such an enormously discriminating stigma attached to mental illness. The average sufferer from mental illness is automatically labeled and viewed as crazy. How humiliating to be grouped with all the crazy monsters through out human history.

Jan Shannon

Brien, you agree that lumping all mass murderers in with mentally ill people isn’t good, but then you call Chris Harper-Mercer a ‘crazy monster’? When is it OK to call names and when not?


Not really calling anyone a crazy monster, merely trying to differentiate between someone who has a mental illness, such as depression, and someone who is a mass murderer. In our limited vocabulary it might be better to assign another term for the later since it perpetuates the humiliating stigma associated with mental illness and reduces the likely hood of our society understanding and actually addressing the needs of those who suffer. In my opinion it is a form of discrimination.

If I had to define a “crazy monster” I would say it would be OK to call Hitler, Idi Amin and Ze-Dong Mao crazy monsters. In my opinion to do other wise would be lessing the monstrous acts they committed against humanity. In regards to Chris Harper, your guess is as good as mine. Could he have been helped we’ll never know. What we do know is that if we continue defining and dealing with this the way we have been as a society then there will undoubtedly be more lives destroyed.

Jan Shannon

I think using terms like crazy and monster allow us to push those people aside, including the acts they commit, into a category that does not include all of society. In other words, I think using terms like crazy and monster actually add to the societal problems that create people like Chris Harper-Mercer. If we could acknowledge that any of our children are capable of this type of crime, as horrendous as it is, and admit that our society is broken in some way since it keeps producing folks like Harper-Mercer, then maybe we could put forth the effort needed to change our society. When we say, “Well, he was crazy, (or a monster)” then we see them as so very different from ourselves, us normal people, that we don’t think anything in our society needs to change, and we just keep on wringing our hands and pointing our fingers at “the other” instead of looking into ourselves and our culture to find out what needs fixing. Chris was not a monster, he was just someone’s kid. What he did was awful, horrific, and cold and calculated on top of the horror, but he himself was just a product of our society. I think the evidence of this is found in the fact that there’s a LOT LESS of this type of mass shooting in other countries. Why is that??

Elizabeth Erin

I think we have to be careful throwing around the ‘crazy’ label. Things like this contribute to the stigma of mental illness, which doesn’t need any additional contributions.

And really, what is crazy? I’m not a psychologist, but I think some of the people you’re referring to throughout history were perfectly sane – they had a really selfish/megalomaniac view of the world. Of course I can’t prove this – just speculating here, but if someone is actually insane, do they have the mental capacity to pull off something like the Islamic State or the Holocaust? Or the Inquisition, or the witch trials? That sounds more like someone who has a specific goal/worldview in mind and believes only their view is the right one.


I cant believe I’m actually debating the sanity of people responsible for genocide and mass murder.

Would you say someone was rational or sane if their selfishness and megalomania pushed them to pursue their goals or worldview to the point of slaughtering millions of innocent people?

Or not even that, how about people who try to take the basic rights of life away from other people? Their bedroom rights, their birthing rights, or just the simple right to have a different believe system?

Are people like that sound as a pound, just extreme over-achievers?

No, I don’t think so. I think there is a lot more going on upstairs but no one is actually home.

What should we call people responsible for genocide and mass murder… poopie-heads or are they humans that allowed what lays dormant in all of us to get out of hand? Personally, I don’t have any friends or family with that dormant gene. If I did I would make sure they were placed away from the rest of humanity because they were a very dangerous threat and not sane.

I completely understand that Chris was a human being. I have no clue what torments (if any) he went through in his life. I don’t want to know. Not because I don’t care or want to hate him, but because it detracts from solving the problem.

We know all to well that traumatic childhoods etc create traumatized adults who more and more frequently harm others and themselves.

We also know ad nauseam that gun control must be better defined, and emotional intelligence needs to be stressed at all ages, especially when people are young, and that quality therapy must be more accessible, and we need facilities to care for those who cannot be helped, and we should all know by now that we will all have to compromise in order for the problem to be solved. People who want a ban on all guns will have to give up that utopian dream. People who want to have vaults full of assault rifles will have to give up on the apocalyptic dream.

Basically, we’ll have to change as a culture and change means compromise. Comprise what we believe to be right and what we believe to be wrong and try to see the gray areas that exist in a true democracy.

Otherwise we’ll just debate and listen to our so called leaders debate, creating more ineffectual factions and then start the process all over for the next massacre. Crazy? Yes.


In regards to Adolf and Mao and all the other poopie heads in history who thought up the holocaust and other awful ideas…

There is a cosmic size difference between a person who is crazy (insane) and a person who is plain stupid. Only an insane person would dream up and enact such atrocities.

If only those crazy poopie-heads through out history would have been crazy and stupid 🙂

Elizabeth Erin

It’s easy to say ‘look at those people and what they’re doing/have done, I’d never go to those lengths’, but I think put in a similar position, many of us would do the same thing.
See: the Stanford Prison Experiments, for one example.
Committing atrocities/evil does not necessarily equal crazy – it can be a product of sociopathic behavior, narcissism, hegemonic desires for power, whatever. Is it wrong? Sure. Is it crazy? I doubt it is in all cases. Again, it’s hard to say – I’m not a psychologist. But we choose to paint our history in very certain ways, don’t we?
We were responsible for the atomic bomb – that certainly killed a lot of people in a very graphic manner. Yet do we label that action as the work of a crazy person? Not usually.
I also think we’re all prone, in the right circumstances/upbringing, to do those things, as much as we’d like to think differently. Maybe we would make different choices, and maybe we wouldn’t.

Jan Shannon

Sam, thanks for your comment. I so appreciate your passion on this issue.
I can agree that what Chris did was monstrous, but I cannot call him a monster. I can agree that SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE, (please, somebody DO something!) but I cannot agree with calling any young man a zero, or a nothing, or “worthless.” Everyone has intrinsic worth. I think it’s just this idea that some people have worth, are ‘good” and some are worthless and can be disposed of, that creates the mass shooters we are seeing more and more of. If this was your child, would they be worthless?

Tracy Simmons

This is an interesting discussion journalistically. Should news organizations name the shooter? So many say no. I get it. But in journalism we teach the 5 Ws and the H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. First on the list is who. Does reporting on the who make the media an accessory? Same say so. It’s an interesting discussion.

Elizabeth Erin

That’s a tough one. From a journalism standpoint, I’d say absolutely name him (who) and his motives (why). I see the issue arising from how much time we spend covering/speculating on the why. When this happens, people want answers. We dig into the shooter/killer’s past because we hope it will turn up something, anything that makes sense about these situations. Hence the media coverage.

Re: calling him a zero, I don’t think that’s necessary – I think I posted the original Daily Beast article because I wanted to highlight the actions of the guy who acted heroically, and the other perspective didn’t occur to me – thanks for pointing that out Jan.
What he did is horrifying and IMO inexcusable, but I also don’t think any person is a zero/worthless.

Jan Shannon

Liz, yes, I totally agree. What he DID was horrifying, but he is not horrific. I think the question is: how much of what he did is caused by whatever internal struggles he had, and how much was an effect of the society we raised him in? Nature/nurture.

Jan Shannon

Copycat anything is a possibility. Copycat suicide, copycat cheating on tests, copycat shootings too, but does it make the media culpable? I don’t think so. I do think there is a type of journalism that sensationalizes the shooter and gives rise to perhaps more copycat behavior, but the average well-meaning news source is just trying to fulfill their duty to the public: give us the details so we can know what’s happened.

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