Oregon District survivor now battling PTSD

Four months after she watched her close friend Lois Oglesby die in her arms from a mass shooter’s bullet, Brittnie Hollingsworth still hears the sound of gunshots ringing in her ears.

Sirens, loud booms and other noises often trigger memories of the Aug. 4 Oregon District massacre in which nine people died and 27 were injured. Although police killed the shooter soon after he started his bloodbath, Hollingsworth said she still worries that the gunman — or someone who looks like him — will kill her. So she stays away from crowded places. She no longer takes walks alone — her favorite pastime because it helps clear her mind — and it’s affected her health.

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She replays in her mind the moment Oglesby, who was shot in the head, was sobbing while repeatedly saying, “I need my kids” and “I’m about to die.” Hollingsworth also thinks about how a spur-of-the-moment decision landed both women and their mutual friend Erica Kirksey in the Oregon District just as the shooting started. When Hollingsworth returned to the Oregon District in late November for the first time since the week of the shooting to talk to a news crew, she took a moment to sob. She said she’s not sure if she’ll ever go there again.

Hollingsworth’s experiences are common among trauma victims, and consistent with PTSD, said Jeremiah Schumm, an associate professor at Wright State University’s school of professional psychology.

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Hollingsworth and Kirksey say they were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder — PTSD — as a result of the shooting. They’ve avoided talking much publicly about their friend’s death. Both women spoke to the Dayton Daily News about Oglesby’s final hours, including the phone call she made to her boyfriend, Daryl Lee, as she took her final breath, pleading to see her children.

Oglesby’s mother, LaSandra James, is raising her 7-year-old granddaughter, Hannah. Lee has custody of the couple’s daughter Reign, who is now 6 months old. The Daily News made several attempts to talk with James and Lee, but we were unsuccessful. In early November, he posted a picture on Facebook of Reign heading to her first day of daycare: “Salty That Her Mom Couldn’t Witness Her First Day Or None Of The First Things She’ll Do In Her Life! #BitterSweet.”

“You know, Reign didn’t get much time with her mom, it’s just not fair. It’s just not fair,” Hollingsworth said, tearing up.

Lots of laughs

A week before the shooting, Oglesby and Hollingsworth had planned to meet about 1 or 2 the afternoon of Aug. 3 for lunch and “have some girl time.” It would be the first time since her pregnancy that Oglesby agreed to spend that much time with friends.

However, that Saturday, the day they’d planned to meet up, Hollingsworth had to work a longer shift. So they arranged to meet at Elsa’s Mexican restaurant — Oglesby’s favorite place — on Wilmington Avenue in Dayton at 7:30 p.m. Hollingsworth arrived first, and she ordered chicken wings and margaritas. Oglesby arrived a short time later.

“We just had a good time, and we had lots of laughs,” Hollingsworth said.

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Kirksey, who introduced Hollingsworth and Oglesby when the three worked at a Kohls distribution center a year earlier, joined them about an hour later. It was the first time the three women had been together since Oglesby’s baby shower in June. Their birthdays are days apart in September, so they discussed plans for a joint lingerie party. Kirksey left the restaurant about 45 minutes later and told them that she’d try to rejoin them later that night.

After about two hours of catching up, Hollingsworth and Oglesby went to a nearby hookah bar, and Kirksey joined them.

They shot selfies and videos, and posted them on social media. Several friends messaged them, suggesting the women go to the Oregon District. It’d been years since they visited there, and none of them had ever experienced its nightlife.

“The Oregon District had never been my choice to go hang out,” Hollingsworth said. “I don’t believe that when it’s time to hangout, the Oregon district was the place where (Oglesby) went, either.”

But in recent months some of their friends had started going on weekends. They liked the fact that unlike other parts of the city where fights and shootings occur, the Oregon District had a reputation for being “drama free,” the women said.

That reputation was a factor in Hollingsworth and Oglesby’s decision to follow Kirksey to the Oregon District after her boyfriend asked her to join him on the patio at Blind Bob’s pub on East Fifth Street. So about 12:30 a.m., Aug. 4, Oglesby got in to Hollingsworth’s car, and they set out. The plan was to be there for a short while and perhaps get one last drink before going home.

‘It was like a war zone’

As Hollingsworth parked on East Fifth Street, near Ned Peppers bar her boyfriend called at 1:02 a.m. to ask when she would be home.

As the women walked toward Blind Bob’s, Kirksey was on the phone getting directions from her boyfriend. They heard what sounded like gunshots — one after the other — coming from the alley next to the pub. As several people ran toward them, the three women can be seen on a surveillance video turning and running in the opposite direction. A bullet ricochets off a light post the women just passed.

Connor Betts, the gunman, shot at least one person before emerging from the alley. He then turned right and started shooting as he walked down Fifth Street toward Ned Peppers.

Meanwhile, Oglesby and Hollingsworth kept running with the crowd. They lost track of Kirksey.

Oglesby and Hollingsworth were running side-by-side when Oglesby fell. Another surveillance video shows Hollingsworth helping her up by the hand, and they kept running as Betts squeezed off more rounds from his AR-15-like pistol. Betts wore a mask, bullet proof vest and hearing protection.

“It was like a war zone,” Kirksey said.

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As they ran, Oglesby started to slow down, but Hollingsworth encouraged her to keep going.

“I’m hit, I’m hit, I’m hit, I can’t run anymore. I’m hit,” Oglesby shouted as they approached the Tumbleweed Connection bar on Fifth Street.

Hollingsworth noticed that Oglesby’s face was covered in blood.

“I looked at her and she’s leaking all down her face. She had a gunshot wound right here,” Hollingsworth said, pointing at her right temple.

By this time, the gunman had been killed, but most people didn’t know that and many were still running.

Hollingsworth feared for her life, but could see her friend was in serious pain.

“Oh my gosh, my head hurts, Brittnie. I need my kids,” Oglesby said.

Hollingsworth started to scream for help. No one came. She dialed 911, but the line was busy.

She worried there could be another shooter. She pulled Oglesby into Tumbleweed, weaving through the crowd to the kitchen, and helped Oglesby to the floor.

Oglesby remained alert, and she showed Hollingsworth where she’d been shot. She started losing consciousness as she began closing her eyes.

“Nae, you gotta stay with me. I’m going to get you some help. You’re gonna be OK, I’m gonna get you some help,” Hollingsworth told her, referring to Oglesby’s nickname.

Hollingsworth tried 911 again — still busy. She realized the line was likely flooded with others calling.

‘I need my kids, I’m shot’

Hollingsworth started screaming louder for help. A Tumbleweed employee took off his shirt, gave it to Hollingsworth and she applied pressure to Oglesby’s wound. The man and Hollingsworth, a nursing student, started administering CPR while encouraging Oglesby to hang on.

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Oglesby continued to ask about her children. She asked Hollingsworth for her phone, and Oglesby Facetimed Oglesby’s boyfriend, Daryl Lee.

“I need my kids, I’m shot, I’m shot. I’m in the Oregon District, and I just got shot in my head,” Oglesby told Lee. Lee hung up and rushed downtown.

“My head hurt bad … I’m about to die, I’m about to die, Brittnie.”

“No, you are not, Nae, don’t say that, you’re not about to die.”

“I need my kids, Brittnie, can you get my kids, bring my kids,” Oglesby started screaming.

Hollingsworth tried to calm her while still administering CPR.

They heard sirens outside. The Tumbleweed employee and Hollingsworth moved Oglesby outside, and laid her down on the sidewalk. More CPR.

Oglesby died before medics arrived. Hollingsworth was holding her hand.

“It was just crazy how she was talking, she was just talking… and I thought she was going to be OK,” Hollingsworth recalled, just staring.

When she realized her friend had died, Hollingsworth vomited and started crying. For the first time since the shooting started, she was hearing others scream for help and fathomed the chaos around her. She was surrounded by people who had been wounded. First responders rushed past. There seemed to be hundreds of officers with various types of weapons, some wearing armor, going in every direction. Someone mentioned that at least 10 people had died.

It was all surreal. Hollingsworth wondered if she was awake, alive or dreaming. She noticed she’d lost a shoe and her purse.

Guilt started to set in. She and Oglesby were running side-by-side. Why wasn’t she shot, too? Why her friend?

That night she wore a plain blue shirt, black leggings and a baseball cap with Las Vegas written across the front. The front of the shirt and pants were covered with Oglesby’s blood. Hollingsworth washed the entire outfit when she got home, but she’s not worn it since the night of the shooting. She can’t get rid of it. The outfit “symbolizes that night,” she said.

‘Nobody is safe anymore’

Most of her life, Hollingsworth has been outgoing, a free spirit who regularly took walks alone to exercise and relax. But since the shooting, she’s become reclusive, only going out in public when she absolutely has to — work, corner store for groceries, daycare to drop off her daughter.

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Crowds make her nervous, and she constantly feels as if there could be another mass shooting any time. Recent mass shootings around the country before and after the Oregon District massacre have contributed to her fears.

As of Nov. 22, there have been 374 mass shootings in the United States, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive - which defines a mass shooting as one incident in which four people or more are killed or injured in a shooting, not counting the shooter. Twenty-nine of those are mass murders - four or more people were killed - according to the GVA, which tracks mass shootings around the country. This year's total for mass shootings is the most since 2016, when there were 282 mass shootings.

Hours before the Oregon District shooting, a gunman in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 Walmart shoppers and wounded at least 24. It’s the deadliest shooting of the year.

“It’s just so risky to be out now,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen. I mean, you’re not guaranteed to go home. When you leave, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve (achieved) or what you’ve done for this society, what type of citizen you are. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is. It doesn’t matter. None of that stuff matters. Nobody is safe anymore.”

She said crowds with mostly white people, and white males in particular, make her even more nervous, . She doesn’t go to a nearby Kroger store anymore because there are too many white people there, she said. She’s embarrassed to feel that way because she said she is not prejudiced toward white people. But she said she just can’t control her feelings that are triggered.

Hollingsworth and others who’ve experienced such traumatic events should not be ashamed about how they feel, nor should they hide from their feelings, said Schumm, the Wright State University professor.

“If the perpetrator has a certain characteristic, that may become seared in the victim’s mind,” he said. “The perpetrator’s race, gender, clothing, and any time they see someone that reminds them of the perpetrator, it becomes a trigger for them.”

Although most people who survive mass shootings don’t develop PTSD, up to 30% do, depending on their level of trauma, he said. Schumm said research has shown that they should not seek to ignore their feelings or avoid certain reminders of the the traumatic event. Instead, they should try to push through the anxiety and fears because the more they avoid those sensations, the worse they can become, he said.

“More importantly, open up to people that you can talk to in your day-to-day life because social support tends to help with recovery the most,” Schumm said. “Those who don’t talk about their feelings and emotions, and thoughts don’t recover and they develop worse forms of PTSD.

Kirksey, who said she was also diagnosed with PTSD, was briefly hospitalized days after the Oregon District mass shooting. She said she has been living with guilt since Oglesby’s death.

“I battle with myself a lot because I know I’m not responsible, but part of me feels like they never were going to the Oregon District,” she said. “That was never in their plans, until I said I was going.”

While discussing the events recently, Hollingsworth also reminisced about Oglesby: Her love for children. She was an avid dancer. She was genuine, charismatic and the life of the party. Oglesby badly wanted another girl after losing Hannah’s twin sister while giving birth seven years ago. She finally got her wish when Reign was born.

Then Hollingsworth begins to cry. She said she can’t seem to break the cycle, and wonders if she ever will.

“It was unbelievable to go through something like that, just to watch her pass away,” Hollingsworth said of Oglesby. “Just knowing that she loved her kids so much and that they aren’t going to be able to have a mom. Just remembering talking with her and just knowing how much she just really wanted to be here for her kids.”

Watch surveillance video of Lois Oglesby and her friends running from the shooter before she died at DaytonDailyNews.com/OregonDistrictRecovery. You can also read all of our past coverage of the shooting, view photo galleries and watch videos on special page.

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