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Roadside Memorial Remains An Outlet For Grief As Oregon Campus Prepares To Reopen

As Umpqua Community College prepares to reopen its campus after a deadly shooting rampage last week, a roadside memorial on its border continues to be an outlet for grief — and not just for Roseburg.

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Eric Dietz hugged his daughter after they pinned a photo of her mother — his wife — on the Umpqua Community College shooting memorial.

Shannon Dietz, 18, said she’ll likely return to the rural Oregon campus on Oct. 12 when classes resume. But before she does, Shannon and her family will gather for the funeral of Kim Dietz, the 59-year-old vineyard caretaker who loved nature and animals, was training the family's dogs to be used for therapy, and had decided to go back to school at UCC at the same time as her daughter.

But on Sept. 1, the fourth day of classes, she was among the nine people gunned down on campus before the shooter took his own life.

“This shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Eric Dietz said.

The last few days have been filled with making funeral arrangements and working with victim assistance programs.

“We’re very humbled by the outpouring of support from the community, and our friends and family,” he said.

On Sunday, the satellite trucks and cameras had gone from the road bordering the memorial. In the newfound quiet, people continued to drop by to leave flowers, cards, and pay their respects.

“It’s hard to explain how if affects everyone if you’re not from a small town,” said Sarah Cooper, a UCC alumna who stopped at the memorial.

Her friend and fellow alumna, Sarah Wilborn, said seeing the support within Roseburg, the region, and from around the U.S. has been a profound experience.

On Friday, Mercy Medical Center, where Wilborn works as a ultrasound technician, received pizzas from a hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana — the site of July’s movie theater shooting in which two people were killed and nine injured. The Louisiana hospital had at that time received a delivery of pizza from a hospital in Texas.

“I hope we never have to pay it forward to any school, hospital, anywhere this happens,” Wilborn said. “I hope we can all come together and grow from this unfortunate experience.”

For Eric Dietz, the clear focus of that growth should be in mental healthcare.

“We want the mental health system in this country to be put back where it belongs,” he said. “When someone can be this crazy and nothing is done, that’s everybody’s problem.”

Amid the flowers and balloons left by family and friends of the victims were messages of support from outside the area: “Love and hugs from California,” read one. “God bless everyone,” wrote a man from Washington.

Tom Bomb stopped by on his way from Portland to Sacramento. Though he didn’t know any of the victims, the memorial brought him to tears.

“People were taken from us when they had so much more to live for,” he said. “My heart goes out to all the families.”

On Monday, the UCC campus will open at 8 a.m. for staff members to get “reacquainted” and prepare for the return of students, college President Rita Cavin said. Students may arrive at 1 p.m. to collect their belongings and get counseling.

Cavin said in the last few days, she’s heard from nearly 100 campus leaders around the nation who have dealt with similar tragedies. Messages have also come from abroad.

The advice has been heavy on maintaining a healthy environment on campus and how to work with staff who have been traumatized, she said.

“This is not a club we wanted to join,” Cavin said. “The senior members are all taking care of us, and I’d like to thank them, too.”

Claudia Koerner is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

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