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After Oregon college shooting, Roseburg’s funeral directors await their solemn, sacred work

The calls will start Friday afternoon, the kind David Hopkins didn’t learn how to deal with in mortuary school.

This afternoon, the paperwork will be complete, signatures affixed to page after page of documents that will tell what happened in Roseburg this week — but not why. Lives cut short will be summed up matter-of-factly: Weight, height, manner of death.

And then the bodies will be released from official custody and turned over to grieving families. They’ll call Hopkins, and men and women like him, to ask for help.

There are a handful of funeral homes in the Roseburg area. In the coming days, they will deal with the next chapter in the book of sorrow being written: Memorial services, funerals and tributes.

Hopkins, in the funeral business for 13 years, plans to be at his desk at Umpqua Valley Funeral Directors. He will take each call personally, trying to guide broken-hearted families who lost a loved one at the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

What he and his colleagues will do this weekend has very little to do with science.

“I’ve prayed and asked God for strength,” Hopkins said.

All funerals are a moment to reflect on loss, love and the meaning of life. But, in most cases, there is time to prepare and plan.

Not here.

“This is a raw tragedy,” said Hopkins.

Roseburg is a small city, and he expects to know the names of some of those who will call him. He, too, has a family. He is 35, married and the father of 2-year-old girl.

On Thursday night, as more details were revealed about the horrific shooting, Hopkins hugged his daughter.

He put her to bed, told her he loved her.

And then, before he turned in, he prepared for what’s coming.

“I read Scriptures,” he said.

John Horan, president of Horan & McConaty funeral service in Denver, knows what awaits Hopkins. He handled eight of the children who died in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.
“People assume that we get accustomed to something like this, that it’s part of our job,” Horan said. “It’s much more. When so many die at one time in such a violent manner, it takes a severe toll on people who do our work.”

Horan said it took two weeks for him to realize that his staff was struggling in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting.

“We brought in counselors and we did debriefings,” he said. “We wanted to help our people cope.”

So Hopkins waits.

“I’m part of the Roseburg community,” he said. “I feel the grief. But I have to put those feelings aside to be professional and be there for the families I hope to help.”

The toughest question he expects to be asked is one so simple and so brutal, a reminder of what happened on that campus.

“Is the body viewable or not?” he said. “I have to give an honest assessment.”

After all the years in the business, this will be something new, something that will leave fingerprints on his heart and soul, making him part of a terrible club of funeral directors: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Aurora.

And now, Roseburg.

“I’m not sure how it will work,” he said. “The medical examiner will find the next of kin and release the body.”

He considers his chosen profession spiritual, but he does not impose that on the families who come to him.

“I respect everyone,” he said. “It does not matter what they believe, or do not believe.”

What he says he will seek in the coming days and months is a shared humanity.

“Goodbye,” he said.

He wants to keep the line clear.

The calls will start soon.

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