By Chris Collins
Karen Spencer and her son, Caden, are grateful for the verbosity of an Eastern Oregon politician this holiday season.
The two were traveling to Salem on Dec. 11 and had planned to stop at the Clackamas Town Center.
Their trip was delayed when their Stanfield visit with Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell took longer than expected. Hansell was elected to the state senate in the November election.
"We talked to him with about 45 minutes," Karen said. "We only thought we'd be there for 5 minutes."
That extra time made a big difference.
Had their trip not been delayed, Karen and Caden believe they'd have been among the 10,000 shoppers at the Clackamas Town Center that afternoon when a 22-year-old Portland man entered the mall and fired as many as 60 shots.
Two people were killed and a 15-year-old girl remains hospitalized. The man then turned the gun on himself.
"It was really scary for me," said Caden, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Haines School. "If Senator Hansell hadn't talked as long as he did, we would have been there."
Instead, the mother-son duo found themselves stalled in traffic at the 205 Exit to the Town Center at Happy Valley, a suburb southeast of Portland.
Instead of shopping for Christmas gift, they spent the late afternoon sitting in traffic and listening to radio reports of the mall shooting as information became available.
Karen said it was amazing to see the cooperation of travelers who were asked to clear the left lane to allow emergency vehicles, as many as eight at one time, to get through to help victims.
And they watched from their vehicle as a LifeFlight helicopter landed beside them on the highway.
"We finally got though and made it to Salem," Karen said.
The next day, their trip proceeded as planned, with Caden serving as a guest page for Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who represents Baker County in the Oregon Legislature.
Karen had planned to discuss RV registration legislation with Sen. Ted Ferrioli in her role as Baker County Parks and Recreation director and Caden was invited to join his mom and to participate in the Oregon Senate's Honorary Page Program.
Karen said she was especially impressed by the time the senator spent talking with Caden about the Clackamas Town Center shooting, which had been a traumatizing experience for him.
Their talk led to a discussion of gun control laws and the impact stricter gun laws might have had on the mall shooting.
Caden said he originally told the senator that he thought tighter controls should be placed on the number of rounds a weapon could fire.
But after considering how fast he can reload his own .22-caliber pistol with the four clips he has available for it, Caden said he changed his mind.
"It's more the person and not the gun and not the capacity of ammunition," he said. "It's just the person, in my opinion."
Ferrioli shared Caden's thoughts with two visiting representatives from the National Rifle Association (NRA), who the boy also was introduced to during the visit.
One of the representatives presented Caden with the NRA lapel pin he had been wearing that day.
"He took the pin right off his shirt and gave it to me," he said. "I thought that was the most exciting part of the trip. I'm just really surprised he took it off his shirt and gave it to me."
The other NRA representative presented Caden with his card and phone number and told him to call him anytime if he had questions or concerns.
During the session, Caden sat on the Senate floor and was introduced as Ferrioli's guest for the day. And Caden's father, Jeff Spencer, was recognized for his work as a senior trooper with the Baker City office of the Oregon State Police.
The senators also observed a moment of silence for the shooting victims and lowered the flag to have staff. A retiring member of the senate also was honored that day.
"It was amazing, especially since I was his guest," Caden said of the experience of serving as Ferrioli's honorary page. "They gave me a CD of the whole entire thing."
In addition to the legislative experience, Caden and his mom also took in all the sights at the Capitol, which was decked out in holiday splendor, complete with music provided by two harpists and a piano player.
"We had such an amazing experience," Karen said.