After a year of grieving, healing, Oregon District survivors try to look forward

In the year since his girlfriend Lois Oglesby was killed in the Oregon District mass shooting, Darryl Lee constantly thinks about Oglesby’s absence in their children’s lives. She won’t get to experience any of 1-year-old Reign’s milestones — her first words, her first time crawling and walking. The little girl loves to dance, like her mother, who died when Reign was 2 months old.

Now that the anniversary of the Aug. 4, 2019, massacre is approaching, the level of pain Lee felt at the time Oglesby was killed has returned. So have the dreams, including one he recently had about her.

“I was just sitting on a porch and I was trying to call her and tell her to come back home,” Lee said.

Oglesby was one of nine people shooter Connor Betts killed before Dayton Police officers gunned him down. The others killed were Megan Betts, the shooter’s sister; Nicholas Cumer, Logan Turner, Thomas McNichols, Derrick Fudge, Monica Brickhouse, Saeed Saleh and Beatrice Warren-Curtis.

Another 37 people suffered injuries. Perhaps hundreds more, including survivors and those who lost loved ones, likely experienced some form of mental trauma. .

In 2019, 417 mass shootings occurred in the country. That was the most in the previous three years, according to 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. In 2016 there were 382 mass shootings and 335 the year before.

For this story, the Dayton Daily News attempted to contact relatives of all nine people who died, as well as survivors. Some declined to be interviewed while others couldn’t be reached. For those interviewed, the past year has been a time of grieving, of healing, of new perspective and of lingering anxiety — all while navigating the uncertainties brought on by a global pandemic.

“What I learned is that later on is not promised to you,” said Donna Johnson, who lived with her nephew Thomas McNichols until he was also shot and killed last year.

“You can wake up in the morning and the evening is not promised to you,” she continued. “In spite of all that happens, in spite of a lot of the stuff going on, you just have to have a good heart at all times because you just never know.”

Weeks after the shooting, Johnson was at work for the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority, and saw the scene where police say a man crashed a stolen police cruiser into a vehicle pulling out of the library downtown, killing two 6-year-old girls.

“I just had a meltdown,” she said. “It was just too much.”

She returned to work after taking some time off. A little while back, the oldest of McNichols’ four young children had a birthday party at her house. The money families received from community donations via the Dayton Foundation was a great help, she said, and she is heartened that groups started by victims’ families are trying to make a difference in their honor.

“You hate that they’re gone. Lord knows, you’d do anything to have them back. But, you know, their memories are living on,” she said.

‘I’ve been having bad dreams'

Ta’Jah Parker was inside Ned Peppers with a friend when gunfire erupted outside and Parker was trampled as the crowd rushed to get away. She still has heightened anxiety if she tries to get a hold of someone and they don’t answer their phone. Parker avoids crowds and quit her job because of anxiety issues after the shooting.

She learned that psychological healing takes time; she is working up the nerve to return to the Oregon District at some point.

“My friend and I are in the same situation with wanting to go back, but kind of scared to face that reality, so I have not been back yet. But I’m working on trying to become mentally strong enough to go back there,” she said.

Brian Pinson and his girlfriend Britney Jones were both wounded in the shooting. Pinson was shot in the buttocks. Jones lost her thumb. Like other survivors, they get nervous in crowds. Pinson said he intends to go to therapy, but he just hasn’t gotten around to it.

“We aren’t going to ever fully recover,” Pinson said. “I’ve been having bad dreams. She’s been having bad dreams. It’s like being in a war and thankful to make it out.”

Jones was one of the people President Donald Trump visited at Miami Valley Hospital when he came to Dayton after the shooting. She declined to be interviewed for this story.

The couple has been living off the roughly $100,000 Jones received from community donations, Pinson said, because they’ve been unable to work full-time.

“I’m still coping with the situation,” he said. “Even though it’s been a year, it’s like tragedy has still been happening, even with the COVID stuff. We haven’t really had a break.”

Dagger in his heart

As she laid on the kitchen floor of Tumbleweed Connection bar clinging on to life, Oglesby, who had been shot in the head, made a video call to Lee. She pleaded to see her two children ― Reign and Hannah Oglesby, now 8. Lee thought Oglesby suffered a graze because she seemed so calm.

“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, but it was too late.

That final call from his girlfriend of six years is seared in Lee’s memories. At times he tears up when discussing Oglesby.

“There’s been so many times, especially when it first happened, that I wanted to give up, but I can’t,” he said. “It affects so many other people, and I have these kids that I have to (raise) for her.”

Although he continues to be in pain emotionally, Lee said he’s not seen a therapist because he doesn’t like to open up.

Reign, who was two months old when Oglesby died, lives with Lee and his son Keon from a previous relationship. Hannah, Oglesby’s oldest daughter from a previous relationship, lives with her maternal grandmother, LaSandra James. She and Lee take care of both children.

Reign is healthy and is developing well, Lee said, adding that she’s smart. Once in a while she says, “mama,” and that feels like a dagger in Lee’s heart.

“It hurts,” he said. “The hurt and pain is there. There’s nothing I can do but to deal with it.”

Hannah has dealt with her mother’s death better than Lee expected, particularly for her age, he said. She constantly reminds Lee of her mother as she has the same laugh and similar mannerisms.

Hannah also talks about her mother frequently, discussing things they used to do together and some of Oglesby’s habits. Hannah also mentions Oglesby whenever she sees or experiences something that reminds her of her mother.

“It’s bittersweet,” Lee said. “It’s not as if you’re trying to forget that person. But I don’t want to be sad all the time.”

Counseling can help

Donita Cosey hopes that other people who have had traumatic experiences will see how much counseling and their community involvement is helping her and her boyfriend Dion Green heal.

The couple was standing near a taco stand in front of Blind Bob’s tavern on Fifth Street when Betts opened fire, killing Green’s father, Derrick Fudge. Prior to the shooting, things were just starting to return to normal after the home Cosey and Green share with their 12-year-old daughter, Niara, was damaged in the Memorial Day tornadoes.

“I know people don’t often believe in (counseling), especially in the Black community,” Cosey said. “So that is my message, to keep promoting and let them know that counseling does help. Look at me and Dion, we’ve come a long way in such a short amount of time. There’s still people that we know that were there that night that are not doing well at all.”

Cosey and Green said they were both diagnosed with PTSD. With help, they are making progress. But going to such places as restaurants, the grocery store or nail salons still gives her anxiety. She tends to look for quick exits whenever she’s out, and she avoids crowds.

“I probably would have never done that before the shooting,” Cosey said. “But now I just feel like I’m always in defense mode.”

Young white males like Betts, particularly those who are standing alone and carrying a backpack, makes her nervous, she said.

“It does bother me, because I don’t want to allow what happened to make me feel this way forever, but its just something that you can’t help,” she said.

Those feelings are common among trauma victims, so they shouldn’t be ashamed of how they feel or hide from their feelings, said Jeremiah Schumm, a Wright State University psychology 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.”

As the shooting anniversary approaches, people affected by the shooting might experience mental health symptoms again. The anniversary date, conversations about the event and even media reports could be triggers, Schumm said. For those who weren’t at the scene of the bloodshed, memories of getting phone calls about loved ones and pictures of the scene could also be triggers, he said.

“They may actually have an increase in their symptoms, sometimes people don’t even realize or connect to why their symptoms are going up,” said Schumm, who treated several survivors in the weeks after the shooting. “Having some return of unwanted thoughts or maybe nightmares or dreams about it can certainly happen, it can re-trigger, things like that.”

The incident has also impacted Niara, Cosey and Green’s daughter. She wants to return home early from an annual summer trip visiting Cosey’s father in Las Vegas because she is concerned something might happen while she’s gone and she is afraid to get another “bad call.” Since she’s been gone, she calls home multiple times a day to check on her parents.

“It’s a constant concern for her, which breaks my heart that she has to feel like she has to live in fear about her parents or another grandparent,” Cosey said.

‘This is what we’re supposed to do'

Green proposed to Cosey in March, but they’ve not set a wedding date. However, the couple, particularly Green, has gotten involved in the community, donating to various causes in his father’s name. He started a nonprofit organization and is working with other mass shooting survivors.

“I feel like at this point, for our lives being spared, this is what we’re supposed to do,” Cosey said.

Another survivor, Travis Osborne, got engaged in February. He has moved into a new house and got a couple of dogs, he said.

Osborne has spent much of his time recently making repairs to his new Centerville house. The work has been more challenging because of lingering issues from the gunshot wound to his right arm. A bullet shattered his humerus, and doctors had to take an artery from his leg to restore blood flow to his hand. Physical therapy continues.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has slowed things down, Osborne also is active with LovelighT Circle. The nonprofit was formed by friends and family of Logan Turner. Osborne was downtown that night celebrating Turner’s 30th birthday when Osborne was injured and Turner killed.

“You can imagine if somebody is a really good person and people enjoy being around them all the time, then you’re going to hurt a lot of people when that stuff happens,” he said of his friend’s death. “We were hit pretty hard by what happened and a lot of people came out of the woodwork and were trying to ease the burden. It’s a good feeling to see that. Then you see the other side where people exploit the situation and try to turn what happened with the shooting into something to further their political gains or something along those lines.”

Turner’s family started a $750 scholarship in his name at Sinclair Community College, where he graduated with an engineering degree. Springboro High School graduates who are interested in engineering are eligible for the scholarship, officials said.

‘Do the right thing'

Many family members and survivors interviewed thought something could or should be done to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring. Several people mentioned making sure people like the shooter can get mental health interventions.

“There were signs,” Pinson said. “I just wish that they could really pay attention to the signs of people like that and get them help.”

Johnson, who has a concealed carry permit, isn’t calling for a crackdown on guns. But she said she believes the type of weapon the shooter used should be for the military, not civilian streets.

“Our legislature needs to look into bringing back stuff for our mental health, because we have a lot of people who have mental problems and they have access to getting guns,” she said.

Osborne is not bothered that lawmakers didn’t rush to enact changes. He doesn’t like the idea of laws being passed in a knee-jerk reaction to a tragedy. He said some of the red flag laws — taking away someone’s weapons for a period of time if they display threatening behavior ― is “something worth looking at.”

The last year has given Osborn perspective, helping motivate him to propose in February to the woman he met six years ago when on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps, he said.

“I’ve always said since all this that your life is on a thread all the time so that gives an urgency to spending it with the people you care about, and trying to do the right thing,” Osborne said.

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