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U.S. Army veteran Chris Mintz

When the gunshots started at Umpqua Community College, some people mistook them for falling books. But Army veteran Chris Mintz quickly recognized the threat.

"He was in the military and knew what it was," said Mintz's aunt, Wanda Mintz.

Her 30-year-old nephew, a student at the college, told classmates to remain calm and went to the door as the shooter came across the hallway. He tried to stop the gunman from entering the classroom and was shot three times, his aunt said.

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After Chris Mintz fell, he told the suspect: "It's my son's birthday today. Don't do this,"' she said. The gunman then shot him at least twice more and went into the classroom, where he kept firing. Nine people were killed before the shooter died during a shootout with police.

Wanda Mintz said her nephew tried to crawl away but could not move because of his wounds. He was recuperating Friday at a hospital in Roseburg and was expected to survive.

"He's lucky to be alive, and we're grateful he's alive," his aunt told The Associated Press on Friday.

In an interview with ABC News, the younger Mintz said: "I just hope that everyone else is OK. I'm just worried about everyone else."

Speaking by phone from her home in Randelman, North Carolina, Wanda Mintz got a description of what happened from her nephew's girlfriend. She said he went through seven hours of surgery.

"Chris is a tough guy," she said.

He was hit in both legs, his stomach, his back and in the hand, but the bullets did not hit any of his vital organs. He has two rods in his legs and is going to be in a wheelchair for the foreseeable future, she said.

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"It's going to be a long, long recovery," she said.

She said she spoke Friday with her nephew, who said he was in a lot of pain.

Chris Mintz was born and raised in Randelman, North Carolina, west of Raleigh. His son, Tyrik, turned 6 on Thursday, she said.

When he was in the military, Mintz was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, then moved about nine years ago to a base in the West. He never saw combat, his aunt said.

She said he's an athlete and was studying body building and nutrition. He left the Army a few years ago and was a part-time student at Umpqua, she said.

Mike Gwaltney, a swim coach at the YMCA where Mintz worked, said he was not surprised to hear how Mintz reacted.

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"It's something that Chris and many others are trained to do," he said. "He's a pretty tough cookie."

Gwaltney said he saw Mintz at the hospital as he was coming out of surgery.

"For the most part," Gwaltney said, "he was in very good spirits."

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