Sheriff ‘felt he became target’ after UCC shooting

10 people died, including the shooter at Umpqua Community College

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, July 2016 (KOIN)
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, July 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s been a year since 9 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College, and the sheriff who led the shooting investigation told KOIN 6 News he never could have imagined the exposure his department received.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said October 1, 2015 started out like any other day. The sheriff said he was catching up on emails, other messages and paperwork shortly after 10:30 a.m. when reports of an active shooter at UCC came in.

“I could feel the blood rush from my head, my heart sank,” Sheriff Hanlin said. “The moment that I pulled up to the scene at Snyder Hall and saw all those people leaving the rooms with their hands in the air… students that were in the classroom, they had the blood of their classmates on their clothing. That was heartbreaking.”

Nine people were killed and 8 others injured before investigators said the shooter turned the gun on himself. Sheriff Hanlin said moments felt like hours as officials worked to identify the victims and notify their families.

But the sheriff’s heartbreak and headaches were just beginning.

“When the sensationalism of the incident started to settle down, I felt like I then became the target,” the sheriff explained.

Sheriff John Hanlin's Facebook post about the Sandy Hook massacre that came under fire. (Facebook)
Sheriff John Hanlin’s Facebook post about the Sandy Hook massacre that came under fire. (Facebook)

He came under fire for a video he shared on his Facebook page, suggesting the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.

“This makes me wonder who we can trust anymore,” Sheriff Hanlin posted.

In hindsight, the sheriff said he didn’t realize that sharing the video suggested he believed the shooting was a hoax.

“What happened was, I watched the video… attempting to multitask, doing 2 different things, and I kept catching bits and pieces of the video,” he said. “There were some inconsistencies in the video that made me wonder what was going on.”

Sheriff Hanlin said he doesn’t “for a second” believe the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. He said “there’s no doubt” in his mind the shooting really occurred.

Umpqua Community College shooting victims remembered

“I went back and re-watched that video and suddenly it dawned on me… what it was really saying,” Sheriff Hanlin said. “Of course I was rather embarrassed and ashamed at that point, but the damage was already done.”

The experience proved to be an important lesson for the sheriff.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, July 2016 (KOIN)
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, July 2016 (KOIN)

“I don’t think there’s anything I would change,” he said. “[I’ve] learned a lot of lessons.”

What affects him a year after the incident is the weight of all the families who looked to him for answers in the aftermath of such a devastating tragedy.

“When you have a mother pleading with you to do everything you can, to prevent the next one of these from occurring… it weighs heavily on you,” the sheriff said.

The sheriff’s office will release its final report of the investigation when it’s complete.