In less than 60 seconds, a gunman murdered nine people in Dayton’s Oregon District early Sunday morning, injured dozens more and ripped a hole in the heart of this community.
“This is a Miami Valley tragedy,” said Governor Mike DeWine at a press conference Sunday after touring the crime scene. Although the shooting happened in downtown Dayton, the victims were from all corners of the region. The historic district — home to restaurants, bars and shops — is one of Dayton’s crown jewels and draws visitors from all over.
“To know someone would target a place so many of us go to as a place of community and love tears my heart apart,” said district resident Allie Swanson. “We all know a victim. We all know someone who is grieving, because Dayton is grieving.”
Wearing a mask and bullet proof vest, police say 24-year-old Connor Betts killed one person in an alley next to Blind Bob’s bar then turned right onto East Fifth Street and opened fire on the crowd of entertainment district patrons killing eight more people and wounding 27 before police officers shot and killed him.
The shooting happened just after 1 a.m. when the popular district was full of bar goers, many of whom were enjoying the warm evening on outdoor patios along the street. Surveillance videos show friends exchanging hugs and people chatting on the sidewalk in the moments before the first shots were fired.
>>MORE COVERAGE: Oregon District shooting: What we’ve learned about the victims
Among the victims was the gunman’s sister Megan Betts, 22, who arrived at the Oregon District with him.
The other individuals killed were: Lois Oglesby, 27; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Saheed Saleh, 38; Derrick Fudge, 57; Logan Turner, 30; Thomas McNichols, 25; Beatrice Warren Curtis, 36; Monica Brickhouse, 39.
Witnesses described the chaos of people running, many so fast their shoes came off, and the loud blasts from the .223-caliber rifle Betts fired.
“Gunshots. Just loud gunshots everywhere. You couldn’t hear anything but that. Everybody screaming and running and just trying to get away,” said Robert Woodruff of Dayton.
He said he was five to 10 feet away from shooter and began running as soon as he heard the shots.
“The direction I was running from a guy got shot in the head and fell in front of me,” he said. “I tried to run the other way and when I did, my phone and my keys flew out of my pocket and flew over somebody’s car. I ran the other way and bullets and people started dropping the other way. I started crawling the other way and dead people start falling that way. I thought I was about to die until the officer was standing over the top of me he started shooting at the guy.”
>>MORE COVERAGE: Dayton Mayor Whaley says Dayton will ‘rise’ after tragedies
Investigators said it is too early in the investigation to speculate on a motive. An individual who accompanied the Betts siblings to the Oregon District was injured but survived and had initial conversations with police, Chief Richard Biehl said.
The violence in Dayton came on the heels of a mass shooting at an El Paso shopping center that left 20 people dead on Saturday. The two incidents prompted some lawmakers to immediately call for action on gun control including a mandatory background check legislation pending in the House, while others including DeWine said time is needed to learn all the facts and then determine what lessons and action might emerge from the tragedy.
Many in the city chose to focus on grieving Sunday, gathering for an afternoon prayer vigil at Levitt Pavilion and an evening candlelight vigil on East Fifth Street. In a city still reeling from a massive tornado outbreak on Memorial Day, people said this blow feels especially devastating.
“Dayton has been through more than we ever could have imagined this year,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said. “Our community has shown incredible resilience in the face of these tragedies, and I’m sure Dayton will rise to this challenge as we always have.”
The tornadoes came two days after a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated group brought nine people to Courthouse Square for a rally that attracted hundreds of others to counter the demonstration. The event drew national attention to the city and praise for how the safety and security measures were handled.
Whaley, along with DeWine and numerous other local, state and national leaders gave the same praise to the city’s first responders Sunday. The quick action of Dayton police officers saved untold numbers, DeWine said.
Betts was shot just outside the door to Ned Pepper’s bar, as he was trying to gain entry. Biehl said if he had gotten inside the bar with the caliber weapon he was carrying there would have been “catastrophic” casualties.
Six officers including one veteran sergeant with a rifle fired their weapons, according to Biehl.
“If the Dayton police had not gotten to the shooter in under a minute, hundreds of people in the Oregon District would be dead today,” Whaley said.
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