Up until last week Roseburg, Ore., was mostly anonymous outside of the Pacific Northwest. On October 1st the rural town became known to the rest of the nation when a shooter opened fire at Umpqua Community College leaving 10 people dead, including himself, and another nine injured. As the town struggled to come to grips with the tragedy tattooist James Wells searched to find a way to help make his community whole once again and found it in his art.
On the morning of October 6th Wells opened the doors to High Priestess Tattoo and went to work. Fourteen hours later he had completed 57 tattoos in one of two designs—script saying "Roseburg Strong" or the outline of Oregon with a heart over Roseburg—and raised more than $5,000 for the families of the victims.
"After what happened at the college I really felt the need to do more than just give my condolences," Wells says. "Connecting what I know best while also raising money for the families was an amazing feeling. It turned out that a lot of people felt the same way."
The event wasn't even supposed to begin until 4 pm but when Wells returned from picking up supplies, donated for the event by Workhorse Irons, there was already a line of people eager to get inked. Demand for the tattoos was high enough that people were gladly waiting up to four hours to get tattooed. Considering the statement they were making with the ink and the cause they were supporting many of the people in the crowd would have likely waited twice that amount of time. Seeing the response hit Wells pretty hard.
"It was very emotional to experience how many people went out of their way to donate their time and money," Wells says. "I met so many positive people that wanted to help any way they could. I feel that there were a lot of people that didn't experience what happened at UCC, but by being involved with this donation they were able to show their support."
Stephanie Campbell was one of the many people to walk out of High Priestess on Tuesday with the outline of Oregon inked into her back. Campbell shared her tattoo (seen above) on Instagram and explained why it means so much to her.
"This is more than just a tattoo," Campbell says in the post. "It's a tribute to my hometown and to the community that mourned and came together in the wake of a tragedy. It's a remembrance of the actions taken by first responders and medical personnel in the face of events we never expected to happen here. It's a reminder of survivors and the love and courage to overcome adversity. It's a memorial to the lives lost and families forever changed. It's a pledge to never forget the events of October 1st, 2015."
If there is any shred of a silver lining to be found in tragedies like this one, it comes in seeing how a community can put aside all of their differences to unite as one. It is this sentiment that Wells hopes to convey through the tattoos.
"The tattoos symbolize how strongly we feel about what happened," Wells explains. "'Roseburg Strong' not only means that we come together as a whole, but it also means how strongly we feel about the tragedy that occurred."