Sarena Moore’s dream was to someday open a ranch where she would train horses as therapy animals for handicapped children.
She was pursuing that dream as a business student at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College on October 1, when Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, burst into her classroom and started shooting, killing nine. Moore, 44, was among them.
She was in her wheelchair, which she needed for debilitating back pain, and her service dog, Bullet, was by her side, when Harper-Mercer burst into their classroom. He ordered the teacher and students to get on the floor. When Moore complied, eyewitness Tracy Heu told the New York Times, the gunman told her to climb back into the chair. She then became his first victim.
Travis Dow, Moore’s fiancé, learned that Moore was among the dead in the massacre, and assumed the dog was gone, too. The next day, he learned that the killer had spared Bullet when police came to his door with the bewildered dog on a leash.
Bullet stayed by Moore’s side through the ordeal, witnesses said, as he had been trained to do.
“He knows she ain’t coming home because he was there when the fatal day happened,” Dow told CNN. Bullet had lived with the couple for seven months and she had trained him to be her helper.
In a statement released by her family, Moore was remembered as a lifelong animal lover. During her teens, she practiced gymnastics on horseback. At the same time, she also raised money to help disabled people learn to ride. “She had a caring heart that was bigger than life itself,” the family wrote. Her Facebook page was filled with images of animals, most recently there were many pictures of her new service dog.
Now, as Dow and Bullet face the world without the kind woman with the bright smile, they’ll lean on one another for strength. “[Bullet] was her world. He was not only her dog, [but] her best friend, beside me” Dow told CNN.
In the wake of the tragedy, other canine comforters traveled to Roseburg, Oregon, to help the community cope. Here’s their story.