Crowds return to Oregon District: ‘I felt God was pulling me here’

Less than 24 hours after the blood was washed from Fifth Street, hundreds of people came to Dayton’s Oregon District.

Many came to pay respects to the nine people killed and dozens injured; others came to support the local businesses as they reopened. Some said they didn’t expect to end up there but were drawn to the scene.

Samuel Galloway said he couldn’t sleep Sunday night into Monday morning, so he went running. He found himself in the Oregon District.

>> New details emerge about Dayton shooting victims

“I don’t know why I came down here, really. I didn’t plan to,” Galloway said. “I feel like God was pulling me here.”

Galloway said he doesn’t know anyone who was hurt in the shooting, but knows people who were hurt in “other ways” by the massacre. He said the shooting won’t keep him from coming back to the Oregon District.

>> MORE: VIDEO shows chaos inside Ned Peppers after Dayton shooting

“Nothing will ever break Dayton, Ohio,” Galloway said. “This is the Gem City for a reason.”

Heart Mercantile’s owners originally felt reluctant to open Monday, but they did after receiving so many messages about orders of their shirts. People wanted a way to show pride in Dayton.

“We hope people aren’t scared away, and that they know that this an isolated incident, and this doesn’t define this area whatsoever,” said Amanda Hensler, a co-owner of Heart Mercantile, which is right next to Sunday’s crime scene.

“We are a lot of small business owners, and a lot of people have families down here too, and we’d like to get back to normal as soon as possible, but we know that is going to take some time,” she said.

>> Ned Peppers re-opens, aims to give customers ‘normalcy’

Jim Roszel, 34, who lives and works downtown, bought two “Dayton Strong” shirts on Monday.

Roszel, who regularly goes out in the Oregon District, said he didn’t go shopping to try to make a statement that he’s not scared to come back.

He said he simply loves Dayton and wanted to show support for the businesses.

“I really feel like this is a place for relaxation, fun and enjoying time with your friends,” he said. “It’s important to keep this as a place for fun.”

On Monday, people helped people there. They cried together, they talked and they embraced.

Therapy dogs were available, and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton brought a puppy and a kitten to the district to provide comfort to passersby.

‘We needed to come’

Pamela Brooks said she and her friends will continue to come to the Oregon District. She placed bouquets of flowers in front of Hole in the Wall bar, near where the shooting took place.

Brooks said she often comes to the Oregon District but is thankful she didn’t go this weekend.

“We wanted to do something because we are still here,” Brooks said. “I hope this brings us together.”

Michelle and Kaylah Keyer also wanted to do something.

>>MORE: 9 dead in shooting, but police chief says toll could have been ‘catastrophic’

They bought roses and spread the petals along East Fifth Street on Monday morning.

“We needed to come,” Michelle Keyer said. “I don’t know why. I can’t really explain it.”

She said she didn’t know anyone killed or injured in the shooting, but felt that she needed to pay her respects.

“This is my city,” Michelle said. “It hits close to home, but it hits harder when you actually come and see it.”

A close call

Christy Cavender, 31, called off work and chose to visit shops in the Oregon District on Monday afternoon.

Cavender said she wasn’t going to let one hateful act change how she feels about Dayton.

“This is my home,” she said. “It didn’t hit too close to home. It hit home.”

But while in Heart Mercantile, Cavender broke into tears. She can’t stop thinking about how close she came to tragedy.

>> Gestures of kindness, compassion and love shine through in Dayton’s darkest hour

Cavender was on her way to the Oregon District from a friend’s house when the shooting happened.

She was on traveling foot and was supposed to rendezvous in front of Blind Bob’s at 1 a.m.

She was late. It’s funny, she said, because she teases her friend for being tardy. But this time it was her. And it may have saved her life.

She sent a text message at 1:07 a.m. saying she was almost to Blind Bob’s. The shooting happened at 1:07 a.m.

“I can’t comprehend,” she said. “Being late probably saved my life.”

Cavender is confident Dayton will overcome and survive. It’s overcome challenges before, and this is no different, she said.

“We are strong,” she said.

>> MORE: Dayton Shooting: People fill Fifth Street for vigil honoring Oregon District victims

‘Dayton Strong’

The words “Dayton Strong” emblazon shirts that Heart Mercantile has been selling. The shirts were flying off the rack on Monday.

All of the proceeds from the sales of the shirts will go to the Dayton Foundation to support the shooting victims. Heart Mercantile is across the street from where the gunman was killed.

Hensler said she was glad to keep busy on Monday and was happy to see a steady stream of customers and well-wishers.

Hensler owns the business along with Carly Short, Kait Gilcher and Brittany Smith.

Hensler said the tornado also devastated the community, but people came together after it. She said they are doing it again.

“We are going to try to bring as much happiness and celebration down here as we possibly can,” she said.

“If we can make people happy, and we can get people laughing again, that’s what our shop is all about,” she said.

MORE: Dayton Shooting: Motive still unclear; shooter had 250 rounds of ammunition

‘People need to be reminded’

James Collins, who owns Gem City Tattoo Club, opened the business Monday after patching damage to his storefront window from what was likely a bullet that ricocheted.

Collins said he’s not going to replace the glass, unless it cracks.

“I’m not being a cheapskate,” he said. “People need to be reminded of this.”

Collins said he decided to open because he did not like the idea of one bad guy changing what life is like in the Oregon District.

“This is a neat place. It’s our little place. We accept everybody down here,” he said. “People who are curious should come down and check us out.”

Mary Jo and Bill Kochmar found themselves in the Oregon District early Monday. The couple came to East Fifth Street to place and light a candle in front of Ned Peppers, adding to the growing memorial.

“I’m just thinking about the mother,” Mary Jo Kochmar said, referring to the mother of Megan and Connor Betts.

Connor Betts shot and killed his sister, Megan, and eight other people before Dayton police shot and killed him.

Mary Jo Kochmar said as a mother of three, she can’t imagine losing her children.

>> MORE: Oregon District Tragedy Fund at Dayton Foundation to help victims, survivors

‘One bad actor’

Attorney Lori Cicero went to work Monday at her office at 500 E. Fifth St., a block from the shooting site.

Cicero lived in the Oregon District for years.

“It is so unfortunate it happened anywhere, but specifically in the Oregon District because I believe the district has been very vibrant in last few years and is an amazing place,” she said.

She said people will never forget this and, undoubtedly, the violence will be on people's minds as they walk the streets at night.

“This one unfortunate person, this one bad actor … the impact on the Oregon District he has imposed on us is something we will have to overcome, I’m certain,” she said.