32 years later, Oregon bar shooting victim dies

32 years later, Oregon bar shooting victim dies
A 2002 file image shows Dennis Scharf, one of the 23 people shot in a Salem bar in 1981. He passed away Jan. 19, 2013 from health complications caused by the shooting. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, FILE)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — On May 7, 1981, a 25-year-old Scio man walked through the front door of the Oregon Museum Tavern on Front Street NE. It was ladies' night, and the young patrons were enjoying the live band Jenny and the Jeans.

The man, Lawrence Moore, pulled out a 9 mm Browning handgun and emptied two magazines of bullets into the crowded tavern.

Before customers could subdue him, Moore killed three people and injured 20. One died in the hospital hours later. Moore was convicted of aggravated murder months later.

Statesman Journal reporters spoke with witnesses and described the scene:

"A scene of sprawled victims — many with massive head, chest and leg injuries — bloody clothing, upturned furniture and broken glass greeted police officers. An immediate call went out to all the ambulances available... Teams of medics alternated soothing words to dazed victims and frantic cries for stretchers and first-aid equipment."

Thirty-two years later, the pain of the tragedy still resonates in Salem. Dennis Scharf, one of the most seriously wounded victims, has died.

Scharf was struck by a bullet between the fifth and sixth vertebra, paralyzing him from the chest down. He died Jan. 19 from health complications caused by injuries he suffered that awful Thursday night.

The impact of the Oregon Museum Tavern shooting, comparable in scope to the recent tragic shootings at Clackamas Town Center and Aurora, Colo., was described in the Statesman Journal a year later on May 7, 1982: "The horror of it all touched the town's soul deeply and instantly... here in Salem the thought on the minds of many was: it could have been me or my son or daughter."

In the months after the shooting, victims began to regain their health, and from time to time were released from care, perhaps with lifelong physical and emotional scars. Scharf and another man suffered injuries that confined them to hospitals and rehabilitation centers long after the others went home.

On May 18, 1981, an article illustrated Scharf's experience at the tavern the night his life was changed forever.

"When the deed was done, the gunman was himself on the floor. Someone — Scharf doesn't know who — came over and put his hands on the wound to stop the bleeding.

"A friend bent over him and refused to listen to Scharf's talk of death. 'You're not going to die, man, you're going to be OK,' he said over and over."

Hospital staffers told reporters that Scharf's spirits stayed high while he was treated.

His family and friends remember his passion for racing.

"He loved drag racing," said Brenda Purdum, Scharf's friend and full-time caretaker of 32 years. "He spent a lot of time watching TV, watching drag races and boat races."

Family members said that he had more than 400 drag races recorded on video tape.

Before the shooting, Scharf sold automotive parts and spent a lot of time on the Willamette River.

"He loved going to the water," said Purdum, who said the two of them met at Wallace Marine Park when Scharf brought his boat for a day on the river.

Scharf also spent a lot of time watching his favorite TV show, "Shepard's Chapel."

His niece, Danielle Scharf of Independence, said that he watched the Christian-oriented program every weekday.

"If he wasn't able to stay up, he'd record it and watch the next day," she said.

He was surrounded by family and friends the week he was in the hospital prior to his death, and Purdum, who lived with Scharf in a home built by the Salem Homebuilders in 1983, was with him until his last breath.

"Every day was a struggle," Purdum said of Scharf's life.

"It affected my family a lot, and it affected a lot of people back in the day," Danielle Scharf said.

Despite it all, Purdum said, Dennis showed no bitterness.

"You never forget what happened," Purdum said. "He wasn't really angry. You'd think with something like this you'd be angry, but when there's nothing you can do about it, you have to move on."

Scharf's family and friends held a public memorial at the Virgil T. Golden mortuary on Friday.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press