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Maria Coder and Susan Young
October 02, 2015 09:45 AM

An army veteran was shot seven times while trying to save his classmates when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday, killing nine and injuring seven.

The veteran, Chris Mintz, 30, is in serious condition after undergoing surgery on Thursday evening after being shot in the back, abdomen and hands, as well as suffering two broken legs, his aunt, Wanda Kay Mintz tells PEOPLE. Multiple reports have identified Chris Harper Mercer, 26, as the shooter.

“He is busted up,” Mintz’s aunt explains, adding that Chris will be undergoing more surgeries later on Friday after being on the operating table for seven hours Thursday evening.

“We’re just so thankful he’s alive; none of the bullets hit any major organs,” Mintz s aunt says. “Both his legs were hit and broken. He was shot in the stomach, the back and his hand. One bullet travelled down his spine, and became lodged in his hip. The doctors are just going to leave it there.”

She adds that Mintz will likely have to endure years of physical therapy, just to learn how to walk again.

Thursday was the birthday of Mintz’s 6-year-old autistic son, Tyrik, Mintz’s friend, Kayla Saffell, tells PEOPLE. Mintz confronted the gunman, but asked him not to shoot because didn’t want to die on his son’s birthday, Saffell says. But the shooter opened fire, hitting Mintz seven times. Miraculously, Mintz survived.

Chris Mintz
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Mintz “tried to protect some people,” his aunt Sheila Brown told told NBC News. “We were told he did heroic things to protect some people.”

Originally from Randleman, North Carolina, Mintz served about 10 years in the Army, according to Brown. He had just started attending classes at Umpqua. “Everyone in town knows Chris,” Saffell, who is the night desk clerk at Motel 6 in Roseburg, says. “I mean, everyone in town knows almost everyone else because it’s a small town.”

But she didn’t know Mercer, the alleged gunman. “I don’t know the guy who did this,” she says. “I don’t know why he did it. Was he bored? Or just full of hate? I’d really like to know why.”

Chris Mintz
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Brown said she’s not surprised by her nephew’s actions. “He was on the wrestling team and and he’s done cage-fighting so it does not surprise me that he would act heroically,” she said.

“It was a great, great shock,” she said of the shooting. “We’ve all been sitting on pins and needles and praying very hard.”

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