DAYTON, Ohio — A masked gunman in body armor opened fire early Sunday in a popular entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people, including his sister, and wounding dozens more before he was quickly slain by police.
Connor Betts, 24, was armed with a .223-caliber rifle with magazines capable of holding at least 100 rounds of ammunition and squeezed off dozens of shots before he was gunned down no more than 30 seconds after his rampage began, Police Chief Richard Biehl said.
Surveillance video shared by police shows that officers shot Betts at the doorstep of further destruction, stopping him from entering a bar where some people took cover when the chaos broke out around 1 a.m. in the city’s historic Oregon District.
Had he gotten inside the bar, the result would have been “catastrophic,” Biehl said.
It was the second U.S. mass shooting in less than 24 hours, and no motive has been explained.
Betts’ 22-year-old sister, Megan, was the youngest of the dead — all killed in a nightlife spot of bars, restaurants and theaters that is considered a safe area downtown, police said.
The gunman was white, and six of the nine killed were black, police said. Although they’ll investigate the possibility of a hate crime, they said the quickness of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.
They identified the other dead as Monica Brickhouse, 39; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Derrick Fudge, 57; Thomas McNichols, 25; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; and Beatrice N. Warren-Curtis, 36.
Mayor Nan Whaley said at least 27 more people were treated for injuries and that at least 15 of those have been released. Several were in serious or critical condition, hospital officials said at a news conference Sunday morning. Some suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and others were injured as they fled, the officials said.
Betts was from Bellbrook, southeast of Dayton. Bellbrook Police Chief Doug Doherty said he and his officers weren’t aware of any history of violence by Betts, including during high school, and had no previous contact with him.
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools confirmed that Betts graduated in 2013 but didn’t immediately release information about his records.
Brad Howard said he went to school with Betts and had known him for two decades.
“The Connor Betts that I knew was a nice kid,” Howard said. “The Connor Betts that I talked to I always got along with well.”
More recently, Betts was taking college classes and working at an eatery. Sinclair Community College confirmed that he attended there and studied psychology but wasn’t enrolled this summer. Chipotle confirmed that he worked at one of its restaurants but released no details.
Police blocked access in Betts’ neighborhood, where neighbor Stephen Cournoyer said he often saw Betts mowing the lawn or walking the dog.
“He seemed like a good kid,” Cournoyer said. “He wasn’t a speed demon, didn’t do anything crazy. But that’s not to say, I mean, obviously he had an issue.”
Nikita Papillon, 23, was across the street at Newcom’s Tavern when the shooting started. She said she saw a girl she had talked to earlier lying outside the Ned Peppers bar, where Betts was slain at the entrance.
“She had told me she liked my outfit and thought I was cute, and I told her I liked her outfit and I thought she was cute,” Papillon said. She herself had been to Ned Peppers the night before, describing it as the kind of place “where you don’t have to worry about someone shooting up the place.”
“People my age, we don’t think something like this is going to happen,” she said. “And when it happens, words can’t describe it.”
Tianycia Leonard, 28, was in the back, smoking, at Newcom’s. She heard “loud thumps” that she initially thought were someone pounding on a dumpster.
“It was so noisy, but then you could tell it was gunshots, and there was a lot of rounds,” Leonard said.
Staff at Ned Peppers said in a Facebook post that they were left shaken and confused by the shooting. The bar said a bouncer was treated for shrapnel wounds.
A message seeking further comment was left with staff.
President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting and praised law enforcement’s speedy response in a tweet Sunday. The FBI is assisting with the investigation.
Gov. Mike DeWine visited the scene after earlier ordering that flags in Ohio remain at half-staff.
DeWine, a Republican, said policymakers must now consider: “Is there anything we can do in the future to make sure something like this does not happen?”
Both of Ohio’s two U.S. senators visited the scene of the mass shooting. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said responding with thoughts and prayers wasn’t enough and said stronger gun safety laws are needed. Republican Sen. Rob Portman said the discussion must include not just policy changes but issues such as mental health supports.
Whaley said more than 50 other mayors have reached out to her.
A family assistance center was set up at the Dayton Convention Center, where people seeking information on victims arrived in a steady trickle throughout the morning, many in their Sunday best, others looking bedraggled from a sleepless night. Some local ministers were on hand to offer support, as were comfort dogs.
The Ohio shooting came hours after a young man opened fire in a crowded El Paso, Texas, shopping area, leaving 20 dead and more than two dozen injured. Just days before, on July 28, a 19-year-old shot and killed three people, including two children, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California.
Sunday’s shooting in Dayton is the 22nd mass killing in the United States this year, according to the AP/USA Today/Northeastern University mass murder database that tracks homicides where four or more people — not including the offender — were killed. The 20 mass killings in the U.S. in 2019 that preceded this weekend claimed 96 lives.
Whaley said the Oregon District has reopened and that a vigil was planned for Sunday evening. The minor league Dayton Dragons baseball team, which plays in nearby Fifth Third Field, postponed its Sunday afternoon game against the Lake County Captains “due to this morning’s tragic event.”
The shooting in Dayton comes after the area was heavily damaged when tornadoes swept through western Ohio in late May, destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.
“Dayton has been through a lot already this year, and I continue to be amazed by the grit and resiliency of our community,” Whaley said.
The city’s effort to create destination districts is quietly taking shape, with two areas already part of the initiative and more neighborhoods expected to be selected in the fall.
Ed Sharrer, who manages the program for the city, said the Tulsa Route 66 and Kendall Whittier Main Street organizations have joined the Destination District program. The move makes sense, he said, because the neighborhoods chosen to be part of the city program will be asked to join the Main Street program.
“We want to see the establishment of additional Main Street programs where they might have the most benefit,” Sharrer said. “That would be the ultimate goal, to see additional programs started with a hyper-localized board of directors, a staff person doing exactly that work in those communities like what is happening in southwest Tulsa and Kendall Whittier.”
The Main Street program is approximately 40 years old and works with more than 1,000 communities across the country, Sharrer said, making it an invaluable resource for the Tulsa neighborhoods selected to be part of the Destination District program.
Better yet, the goals and approach of the two organizations align.
“We’ll be helping to stimulate economic development. We’ll be helping to improve the quality of life,” Sharrer said. “We will be providing additional opportunity to people who may not have traditionally experienced quite that level of opportunity …
“Basically, we’re just creating places where people want to be, whether they want to live there, whether they want to work there, whether they just want to visit there for shopping or entertainment.”
Sharrer said the city is targeting its efforts on neighborhoods that have experienced some level of disinvestment. Among the communities being considered for the Destination Districts program are the historic Greenwood District and the International District at 21st Street and Garnett Road.
“We do feel that both of those are places that would be excellent locations for the Destination Districts initiative,” Sharrer said. “Should people in those areas like to do that and have the grassroots support, we think there is a lot of opportunity there, and other places.”
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said she does not expect the Greenwood Destination District to include all 35 acres of the neighborhood.
“But it will be more than what we call deep Greenwood, which is just the buildings that are down there just to the south of the IDL (Inner Dispersal Loop),” Hall-Harper said. “That is something that will have to be discussed at length and determined as far as what those boundaries will be. But it will be more than (Black Wall Street).”
Councilor Connie Dodson said she has discussed the possibility of creating a Destination District at 21st Street and Garnett Road with city officials but that no decision has been made.
“I think that is one that they are really focusing on,” she said.
Dodson said she is also considering using funds from the Improve Our Tulsa renewal package to help draw attention to the neighborhood. If approved by voters in November, the $639 million capital improvements package would provide each City Council district with $1 million to use on a community development project.
“I am looking at potentially investing (some funding) in that destination place stuff,” Dodson said. “Whether it be for small things, like trash cans in the area, small banners, different things like that can really kind of tie that intersection together and make it more of a destination.”
The Main Street programs established as part of the city’s Destination Districts program would be independent, nonprofit organizations that would receive financial and other forms of assistance from the city.
That help could include collaboration on infrastructure projects or guidance in implementing the Main Street program.
“The city will make sure you can have one if you want one,” Sharrer said.
But he stressed that the Destinations Districts program will not be limited to a particular area of town, nor will its services be confined to helping neighborhoods join the Main Street program.
“The initial push is to create additional Main Street programs because of the proven model and great fit for many places in Tulsa,” Sharrer said. “However, we will develop additional programs over time to complement this initial focus on the Main Street program.”
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A $3 million taxpayer-funded program will soon give schools across the state access to a relatively untested “panic button” app that can alert authorities and staff if there is an active shooter, fire or emergency in the school.
Funding for the Rave Panic Button app was largely approved behind the scenes this year. Although it was not included in the state Education Department’s budget requests, lawmakers passed funding for the program through a line item in the department’s 2020 budget allocation.
In addition to the $3 million price tag, the app comes with recurring maintenance fees, expected to be $2 million for two years, according to an Education Department spokeswoman. The department will pick up that cost. Districts can choose whether to use the system.
There was a bill this year to direct school districts to implement a panic button alert system by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, but it stalled during the legislative session.
Ethics Commission reports show company officials were busy lobbying state leaders shortly before the budget deal was finalized.
Rave Mobile Safety, a Massachusetts-based company that makes the app, employs a lobbyist at the State Capitol — the same lobbyist who represents the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, which voted to endorse the program in March.
The lobbyist, Steve Edwards, reported purchasing meals for a number of state lawmakers, but two stand out: a $52 dinner on May 21 with three key Education Department staffers — state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, Chief of Staff Phil Bacharach and Chief of Government Affairs Carolyn Thompson, records show. He also reported spending more than $50 on a dinner with Hofmeister a month earlier, on April 17.
In a statement, the department defended the lobbyist meals.
Hofmeister regularly meets with representatives of businesses and nonprofits, said Steffie Corcoran, a department spokeswoman. She also toured the Norman 911 center along with state legislators to see how Norman Schools has implemented the Rave system.
“We are excited about how the Rave system will significantly enhance school safety,” she said. “Although the department did not request this in our budget, we understand why legislators included a line item to implement a mobile safety app for schools.”
The panic button is a cellphone app that will be available to staff at every school in the state. The $3 million provides access to all school districts, and Oklahoma is the third state to implement the service in schools statewide. The others are Arkansas and Delaware.
The panic button works like this: A teacher or other staff member uses the app to dial 911, which simultaneously alerts authorities and on-site staff of an active shooter, fire or other emergency. The app gives a 911 operator immediate access to the caller’s specific location, as well as building floor plans and points of entry. The Rave Mobile Safety website claims this enhanced coordination saves time and lives.
It also allows the caller to text 9-1-1 if they are afraid or unable to speak, according to the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association.
The program is largely untested, and there have been some concerns over reports of the app’s failure to notify emergency responders or of false alarms, such as one that occurred at an Arkansas elementary school in 2015.
But law enforcement in areas where it’s being implemented, including one Oklahoma district and individual districts in New York, California and Florida, have found success using the system.
Norman Public Schools has implemented the app and has so far used it several times for medical situations, said Alesha Leemaster, a district spokeswoman.
All public and private K-12 schools in Michigan’s Eaton County use the Rave app. Eaton County Central Dispatch Director Michael Armitage says the panic button system has proven useful since implemented in 2015.
“We encourage use any time they’re contacting 911,” Armitage said. Schools in his area have used it when there’s been a threat outside the school, such as a person with a weapon. But medical emergencies are the most common.
School security has grown to an estimated $2.7 billion market and is expected to continue growing an average of 1% per year, according to IHS Markit, an analytics firm.
But there’s little evidence these technologies work to prevent or mitigate violence in schools. Last year The Washington Post surveyed schools across the country that had experienced a shooting since 2012; half replied there was nothing they could have done, and several schools emphasized the need to build relationships with students, who often hear about threats before teachers do.