The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gunman killed sister, eight others in second deadly U.S. mass shooting in 24 hours

Samuel Klug and John Neff place candles around a makeshift memorial at the scene of the mass shooting. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

DAYTON, Ohio — In the hours before the mass shooting, siblings Connor and Megan Betts drove the family’s 2007 Corolla to visit this city’s historic Oregon District, an area alive on a summer night with restaurants, bars and nightlife.

Then, police said, they separated.

It is not clear what Megan, 22, did at this point. But Connor, 24, donned a mask, body armor and ear protection. Wielding an AR-15-like assault weapon with magazines containing 100 rounds, he set out on a street rampage that, although it lasted only about 30 seconds, killed nine people and injured 27 others, police said.

Among the first to die was Megan Betts. Her male companion was injured, but survived.

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Many more might have been shot, officials said, but less than a minute into the barrage, police patrolling the area saw people fleeing and neutralized Connor Betts — he was shot to death — as he was about to enter a bar where dozens of people had run in to hide. A bouncer was injured by shrapnel. At least six police officers fired rounds at the gunman.

“As a mayor, this is a day that we all dread happening,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) said at a news conference Sunday morning. “And certainly what’s very sad as I’ve gotten messages from cities across the country is that so many of us have gone through it.”

The attack came less than a day after a man with an assault-style weapon killed 20 people in El Paso and a week after a man fired on a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., killing three people and wounding 12.

Authorities said that in Dayton, four women and five men were killed. Of the 27 people who were injured, 15 had been discharged from a hospital as of Sunday afternoon.

Exactly what precipitated the chaos is unknown.

The guns had been legally purchased, police said, and there was nothing in Betts’s background that would have raised concerns — he had only traffic tickets, for speeding and failing to yield.

Betts had been studying psychology at a local community college and working at a Chipotle restaurant. In an online profile, he reportedly described himself as “Good under pressure. Fast learner. Eager to overachieve.” But he also had been troubled in high school, at one point drawing up a “hit list,” and such incidents, along with his relationship with his sister, will be points of interest for investigators.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said they are still trying to answer “the question that everyone wants to know: Why?”

The shooting shattered a typical summer weekend night’s revelry in Dayton’s Oregon District, east of downtown.

Pulling up to the area that night with Connor and Megan Betts was a male “companion,” police said, and the trio parked a few blocks from where the shooting would begin.

At some point, Connor Betts diverged from the group.

“What they did during that time they weren’t together is a question mark,” Biehl said.

Before the first shots were fired, it was a night of celebration for the interns from the Maple Tree Health Alliance, a cancer-treatment center.

One of them was Tyler Erwin, 27, who was standing in line outside the Ned Peppers bar with his girlfriend, Mary Pelphrey, and three fellow interns. Then they heard shots as Betts fired first in an alley and then many more times on Fifth Street. Video recordings show people fleeing past parked cars as round after round is fired.

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Erwin grabbed Pelphrey and dove behind a doorway next to the opening of the bar. For a minute, all they heard were more gunshots and people screaming, Erwin said.

After what felt like hours, the couple emerged. "There was just bodies, blood everywhere,” he said.

One of their friends, Hannah Martin, had been shot in the leg, Erwin said. Another, Kelsey Colaric, had been shot in the abdomen. The third, Nick Cumer, was on the ground, on his side. The 25-year-old has been confirmed as one of those killed. Cumer had been a graduate student in the master of cancer care program at St. Francis University in Pennsylvania and spent the summer living in Columbus and commuting an hour each morning to the health alliance’s treatment center.

“Nick was an extraordinary human being. He was intelligent, he was extremely caring and kind. He loved his patients, and he always went above and beyond for them,” Erwin said. “We were going to show him one good, fun night out. … That was the plan.”

Belinda Brown, 46, who teaches elementary school in Dayton, told The Washington Post that her niece was sitting outside a restaurant when the shooter, clad entirely in black and wearing a mask, pulled out a large gun and “just opened fire.” Her niece jumped up with her friends, ran inside and hid behind a bar, where she huddled in terror with the bar’s employees, said Brown, who heard the account later.

The niece, her friends and the employees were able to sneak out the back, she added.

Brown’s nephew, meanwhile, was at a club next door to the restaurant where the shooting started. As soon as he heard the loud pops, he whipped out his phone and started recording — and running.

“Nothing ever happens in the Oregon District. It’s a very quiet, upscale neighborhood in Dayton, and everybody hangs out there,” Brown said. “It’s just unheard of. You don’t even get fights there.”

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Megan was not the first person Connor Betts killed, police said. But she and the male companion were among the earliest victims, shot around when Betts emerged onto Fifth Street.

Police said officers ended the violence “quickly” by shooting the gunman, who began firing about 1 a.m.

Surveillance footage from outside Ned Peppers captured the moment Betts was struck multiple times by officers’ fire as he tried to enter the establishment. Police said they neutralized Betts in 30 seconds.

“Had this individual made it through the doorway of Ned Peppers with that level of weaponry, there would have been catastrophic injury and loss of life,” Biehl said. “So stopping him before he could get inside there — where you saw people were running in there for protection — was essential to minimizing to the degree we could casualties and deaths from this incident.”

Injuries ranged from gunshot wounds to the abdomen and extremities to a foot laceration suffered in the chaos, officials said.

Because the investigation is in its early stages, Biehl said, “any suggestion of motive would be irresponsible.”

Betts’s former high school classmates said he was “always obsessed” with guns.

Midway through Betts’s freshman year at Bellbrook High School in Ohio, the school became aware that he was toting around a “hit list," including classmates, of people he wanted to take “revenge” on, said Samantha Thomas, 25, who attended Bellbrook at the same time as Betts.

“It was a list of girls and all of these really pretty vile things that he was going to do to them,” Thomas said. “All the girls were really freaked out. He got kicked out of school for it.”

David Partridge, 26, who also attended Bellbrook with Betts, said the list included a member of his family. Partridge said that a friend of his called the Sugarcreek Township Police Department to report the list, and that officers later pulled Betts off a bus as he was headed to school one morning.

“I watched as they apprehended him,” Partridge said.

Bellbrook High School could not immediately be reached for comment. Police declined to comment about the list.

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Also unknown is the nature of the relationship with his sister. Megan Betts had spent the past few months as a tour guide helping visitors explore the wilds of Missoula County, Montana, said her former supervisor at the Smokejumper Visitor Center.

Megan Betts secured the summer internship — which ran from about mid-May to July — through a program run by the Student Conservation Association, said Daniel Cottrell, the manager at the visitor center.

He said Megan Betts was a “very positive person.” While she worked at the visitor center, she earned a reputation as a competent employee who was well liked by her peers, according to Cottrell. She also loved exploring new places — especially Montana and its “local culture,” he said.

“We really enjoyed the time that she spent working here for us. She was full of life and really passionate,” Cottrell said in an interview with The Post. “She was a very caring individual.” Cottrell said that he never discussed her brother with her but that she did seem close to her family.

When Megan Betts left the job in Montana near the end of the summer, her mother drove to pick her up, and Cottrell said he thought the two seemed to have a good relationship.

“I’m just sad,” Cottrell said of the Dayton shooting. “I am just frustrated these things keep happening in this country.”

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The Montgomery County coroner’s office identified the nine dead as Megan K. Betts, Monica E. Brickhouse, Nicholas P. Cumer, Derrick R. Fudge, Thomas J. McNichols, Lois L. Oglesby, Saeed Saleh, Logan M. Turner and Beatrice N. Warren-Curtis.

Just hours after the shooting, the scene was cordoned off with police tape and the area was largely deserted. But as daybreak settled over the city, more and more people filed into Dayton’s convention center seeking information about missing loved ones at a station set up by the city.

Joe Oglesby, who said his niece Lois Oglesby was killed in the attack, said he felt “numb.” Oglesby said his 27-year-old niece had just had a baby last month and had an older child.

“She was a nurse’s aide and a very devoted mother,” he said.

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The shooting prompted quick reactions from politicians.

President Trump’s first tweet about the massacre Sunday morning focused on law enforcement’s response, praising the speed.

"Much has already [been] learned in El Paso,” he wrote.

“God bless the people of El Paso Texas,” he added in another tweet. “God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio.”

Ohio leaders also shared their grief and some went beyond condolences to call for stricter gun control.

“We are also angry — angry that shooting after shooting politicians in Washington and Columbus refuse to pass sensible gun-safety laws to protect our communities,” tweeted Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) did not mention gun control but said in a statement that these “senseless acts of violence must stop.”

Gun owners can carry their weapons openly in Ohio; concealed-carry handgun licenses are available through an application. The minimum age to buy a gun in the state is 18, while an individual must be at least 21 to buy a handgun.

The politics even entered a vigil for the victims held Sunday night near the scene of the rampage.

Hundreds of people converged shoulder to shoulder on the brick-laden main street of the Oregon District to remember the dead.

There was grief, but also anger.

Arguments and competing chants broke out as some called for gun control.

While Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) spoke to the crowd, sporadic screams pierced the mourning.

Two or three voices yelled, “Do something!”

Within seconds, others joined in and the chant spread across the melancholy assembly.

“We are tired of vigils!”

“What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”

More angry voices erupted to try to tamp down the outbursts, encouraging one another to leave politics aside for the moment.

Whaley took control seconds later and reminded the crowd that the vigil was about remembering and healing, not a debate about gun rights.

But the mayor herself didn’t let the moment pass without making her own call.

It "was avoidable,” Whaley said. “Something must be done, Dayton.”

Rebecca Tan, Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins and Morgan Krakow in Washington and Arelis Hernandez in Dayton, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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