1 year later: The pain of the Oregon District shooting is still with us

On Tuesday, Thomas McNichols decided he needed to take a ride.

McNichols had a lot on his mind on the one-year anniversary of his son’s death. He wanted to try to clear his head.

The Oregon District wasn’t his destination. But he ended up there anyway, like he was pulled there from his Miamisburg home.

McNichols has been drawn to the district repeatedly since his son, Thomas “TeeJay” McNichols of Dayton, was killed during the mass shooting one year ago.

McNichols, like other survivors and victims’ families, said the one-year anniversary of the terrible event was a source of fresh pain, like a reopened wound.

“We’ve had a rollercoaster of emotions,” he said.

On Tuesday, many people impacted by last year’s tragedy found ways to remember the lives lost and the lives forever changed by 32 seconds of violence.

Many people visited the district and posted notes expressing feelings of loss, love and support.

Many others walked through the district and stopped near the site of the shooting for silent reflection.

Back to the Oregon District

This week was the first time Dion Green had been back to the Oregon District since the shooting.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year since I’ve seen or talked with my dad,” Green said.

Green picked up nine flower wreaths to honor his father, Derrick Fudge, and the other victims.

He set them up in front of the Ohio EPA building, across from Blind Bob’s.

Green’s father died in his arms in the street near the establishment. He chose to eat there Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t want to be out here on the patio, but I’m doing it,” he said. “Being by that walkway, the one I watched (the shooter) walk down to enter into the street, it broke my heart.”

Green said his server was shot that night and he has met so many others who were out in the Oregon District on Aug. 4, 2019.

“I’ve cried about 10 times and I’m probably going to cry about 10 more and 10 more times after that,” Green said. “I’m just still processing.”

Tuesday was the first time Green and Tom McMurtry met in person. They bumped into each other after Green put up the flowers.

McMurtry was a Sinclair College police officer who rushed to the scene of the shooting to aid the wounded and provide other assistance.

He tried to help Fudge but he was fatally wounded. He put a sheet over Fudge to block public view of his body.

McMurtry said he feels a close connection to Green, as well as to Green’s father and the other victims.

“I wanted to meet him,” McMurtry said, referring to Green. “We were within feet of each other a year ago this morning.”

“In a small way, I share the hurt and pain of that night,” McMurtry said, later adding that he’s still recovering from the trauma of that experience.

McMurtry said he wanted to be in the Oregon District Tuesday to honor those people whose last living moments happened there.

Hard to understand

McNichols, TeeJay’s father, stopped in the Oregon District so he could speak to Green.

McNichols and Green have tragedy in common and share feelings of grief, of loss. But they ended up bonding over more than just heartache.

McNichols said his family continues to struggle with the question of “why him” — why TeeJay died in an act of senseless violence.

TeeJay — a father of four young children and the only boy out of five siblings — had a golden heart, his father said.

McNichols said coming to the Oregon District is part of his healing process. He said he gets some relief from the tears he sheds and the rush of emotions that sweep over him just from being there.

McNichols said he replays the events from Aug. 4, 2019, over and over again in his mind.

He said it’s like he does this hoping for a different outcome, where his son and the eight other victims are still alive.

McNichols believes this is his way of trying to understand something that doesn’t make sense, like an insolvable puzzle.

McNichols said seeing Green was helpful. Also, his daughters planned a balloon launch to honor and remember their lost loved one.

“It’ll be us getting together and crying if we have to, laughing if we have to and healing — family healing,” he said.

1:06 a.m.

The rememberances on the one-year anniversary really began shortly after 1 a.m., when a handful of people gathered near the shooting site.

The silence was stark compared to the scene on the street one year earlier. The shooting happened at 1:06 a.m. on a Sunday morning, when many late-night fun-seekers were out at the bars.

The only sounds Tuesday morning were the whoosh of the seldom car driving by on the brick road and a few muffled sobs.

One man sat down against the fence at the Blind Bob’s patio. A few sat on the concrete tree beds across the street from Ned Peppers and Hole in the Wall.

Paul Stelzer, who sat on a concrete slab with tears in his eyes, said, “I didn’t know what to expect when I came down here.”

“I felt the need to be down here to honor the victims,” said Stelzer, who lives in Columbus but is originally from Butler Twp.

He was in town taking care of his elderly father on Aug. 4, 2019.

True Hoffman walked the block carrying a lit candle. He said he was three blocks away when the shooting happened. His friends were on an Greater Dayton RTA bus and saw bullets flying in the district.

“It’s so crazy that we live in a city where a mass shooting happened,” Hoffman said. “There’s definitely some scar tissue there.”

In the days after the shooting, Hoffman said he came to the Oregon District and drew chalk hearts with each victims’ name in them in front of Heart Mercantile, Feathers and the Gem City Tattoo Club.

“I think the hearts kind of made the situation more real,” he said. “Once they were on the sidewalk, people walked around them. It made people think about where they were walking.”

On Tuesday morning, artists and the owner of the Front Street Art Studios & Galleries set up a nine-panel art display near the western end of the Fifth Street business corridor in the Oregon District.

The paintings are of nine trees, which represent the nine people who were killed in the mass shooting a year ago. Each painting is a different interpretation of the tree of life.



Local artist Rusty Harden incorporated the names of the victims in her painting, parts of which were hand drawn. She said the piece has texture intended to illustrate the ripple effect of the tragedy.

“I hope people get a sense of peace from it,” she said. “We need to remember not just those who we lost, but we need to remember that we are all affected by these kinds of events.”

District visitors are invited to pin notes to the artwork with messages and thoughts they wish to share.

The paintings will be in the Oregon District for about a month. After that, they will be moved to an outdoor sculpture garden at the Front Street.

An anonymous group of people wrote many handwritten messages of love, encouragement and compassion, which were stuck to storefront windows and doors.

Similar messages were posted last year, shortly after the shooting.

Tanvi Banerjee and William Romine strolled through the district reading the post-it notes.

Many messages encourage people not to hide their grief and helpfully pointed out that grief and coping can be messy and complicated, said Banerjee, 35.

“Little things like this just reveals the humanity aspect of Dayton,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”

Banerjee said the Dayton community has done a great job of focusing on positivity after the tragedy. One year later, she said, Dayton is a stronger community.

Multiple bars and clubs near the site of the shooting decided not to open Tuesday.

They said they wanted to give their staff a “breather” and wanted to provide an opportunity to remember the lives lost.

Many people who were in the Oregon District during the shooting have shared some of their experiences on social media and talked about how they are coping a year later.

Because of the coronavirus threat, people aren’t able to congregate in large groups as they might normally do.

Most of the official planned memorial events took place online because of fears about infection.

There was a nine-minute moment of silence at 8:04 p.m. The city of Dayton provided a video tribute to the victims online.

A new photo mosaic remembering the lives lost and how the community came together was unveiled.

McMurtry, who on Tuesday morning attended an event at the Dayton International Peace Museum, said he deliberately returned to the Oregon District because he didn’t want the shooter to get to take something away from him by ruining a special place.

But McMurtry said it hasn’t been easy dealing with the trauma.

McMurtry said he has written a detailed description of everything he experienced on Aug. 4, 2019, as part of therapy. He said putting his thoughts on paper is an important part of self care and how he processes trauma.

McMurtry said he has been writing about traumatic experiences since serving in the military and being deployed to Iraq in 2003.

He said he’s learned how to turn terrible events, like his father’s death and combat experience, into a “fact from your past.” He said the experiences are life-changing, but he’s learned how to process and live with them, much like how people recovery from physical injuries.

“I’ve described it as living in a bright, sun-lit run, but knowing that there are demons in the shadows, where I have put them and where they will stay because I put them there,” he said. “But you can’t ignore them.”

McMurtry said he will be connected to the Oregon District and the people impacted by the mass shooting for the rest of his life.