The man who police said killed nine people in Dayton’s Oregon District Sunday talked about slaughter routinely to friends, classmates and acquaintances over more than a decade, but gave little indication he was willing to act on it until Sunday’s deadly killing spree began.
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A Dayton Daily News investigation into the shooter’s life found an abundance of red flags planted across the life of 24-year-old Connor Betts, who police said killed nine people — including his sister Megan — and injured 37 others in Sunday’s massacre.
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The newspaper spoke extensively with those who knew Betts, interviewed experts and reviewed police, court and school records. Together, the investigation found Betts’ life to have been filled with disturbing, complex and contradictory behaviors.
The FBI, which joined the investigation this week, says Betts’ behavior was focused on exploring “violent ideologies.”
Connor and Megan Betts grew up in a two-story frame house their parents bought in 1998 in a middle-class subdivision called Timber Springs in Bellbrook. Their father, Steve Betts, has advanced degrees in computer science, according to his LinkedIn page. Their mother, Moira Betts, incorporated a business called Minethurn Technologies in 2007, according to state records.
Many of the homes on the street share a mailbox that is in front of the Betts home, so neighbors often talked with the family in passing. Many reached this week said the family was polite and good members of their community. Other neighbors said Moira was a dedicated mother and that Megan was great with small children and babysat for families in the neighborhood.
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“Right now everybody is very protective of them,” said neighbor Amanda Kwast. “We don’t want them to feel like anyone is blaming them or against them in any way. We still love them. We always have.”
Connor Betts attended Bellbrook schools, participated in music and theater, and graduated from Bellbrook High School in 2013.
He briefly attended Wright State University and was recently a Sinclair Community College student who studied psychology. He worked at a local Chipotle and was described by acquaintances as having “a bleeding heart.” Peers said he was intelligent and some said he could be charming. Former teachers said he was polite despite struggling in class. He registered as a Democrat in 2012 and spoke about progressive causes on social media and to his friends.
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But the darker behaviors have been in evidence for more than a decade. As a freshman, Betts was taken off a Bellbrook High School bus by police because he had developed a list of people he said he wanted to kill, classmates said. In another incident, he unexpectedly held a knife near another student's throat. He talked recently with one friend about shooting up Timothy's bar near the University of Dayton. He was recently the vocalist in a band with an obscene name and rape-glorifying lyrics which played in Chicago and St. Louis. They performed one song in a video posted on YouTube wearing dresses and face masks.
Former classmates said Betts told them he had a fear of himself and said he knew his darkest thoughts were morbid.
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“He would have been the first to tell you he hated himself,” said Adelia Johnson, an ex-girlfriend. “He told me twice that he held a gun in his mouth ready to pull the trigger. He knew that he shouldn’t have been allowed to own a gun, even though he loved guns.”
Johnson said she believes he wanted to get shot by police. But he wore a bulletproof vest and donned hearing protection headphones slipping down the alley into the Oregon District.
As police stood over his body in the threshold of the Dayton bar Betts died trying to enter, Betts wore a black shirt with the words “No heart to feel. No soul to steal.”
Trouble in middle school
The Dayton Daily News investigation found Betts exhibited a host of violent or threatening behaviors since at least late-middle school. He was suspended from Bellbrook High School for having the hit list. According to one friend, as recently as five months ago, Betts pulled a gun on him while they were together near the University of Dayton and then discussed shooting up Timothy’s Pub and Grill located on Brown Street.
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New details are emerging about that propensity for violent behavior.
A former classmate, Matthew Terry, said he had an incident with Betts before their freshman year at Bellbrook High School. Terry recalls Betts “was creepy, even then.” He was with Betts and others at a park and Betts was staring down a female friend who became uncomfortable. Terry said he approached Betts and asked him to leave.
Betts then pulled a knife out of his pocket and held it about 8-10 inches away from Terry’s throat.
“I think that we were all shocked that he took it to that extreme,” Terry said. Even though he was afraid, Terry said, he didn’t report the incident to police until months later, when Betts’ hit list emerged.
“I almost had to testify in court about the whole thing, but he took a plea deal,” Terry recalled.
His mother confirmed this to the Dayton Daily News, saying the family received paperwork from the Greene County Juvenile Court.
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The Dayton Daily News has not been able to access Betts’ juvenile court records, with the Greene County Juvenile Court clerk only providing the newspaper with the section of state law dealing with records expungement.
Another former classmate, Eva Lewis, said she knew Betts since middle school and had several bad interactions with him.
She said Betts threatened her in 8th grade, walking up to her with his cell phone and pretending to cut her throat or stab her stomach. She doesn’t remember him touching her, but said it was close enough to be uncomfortable. He’d lean over and whisper threatening things to her, she said Thursday.
She reported the behavior to a guidance counselor, she said. She doesn’t know if Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools took action, but the school contacted her parents in 2009 about the hit list. She and about 10 other girls were on the list Betts had drawn up.
Today, Lewis lives near the Oregon District. She had thought about going out that night, but decided to stay at home with a friend instead. The next day, she learned Betts perpetrated the killing.
“I started crying,” she said. “I felt a mix of emotions. Not a fear, but a past fear. I felt sadness. I knew Connor.”
William Coleman, a Wright State student who knew Betts during the shooter’s brief enrollment there, said he became good friends with Betts around 2013. He said Betts’ mom prodded Betts into singing in the university’s men’s ensemble.
“He was a little bit of a loner, but he didn’t mind being around people,” Coleman told the Dayton Daily News. “He was obsessed with guns. We would get into arguments about that.”
“There would be times that he would mention or talk about certain people in high school,” Coleman said. “He never said any names. But he mentioned that he would like to get rid of them. He definitely had people that did not like.”
Coleman, like others interviewed by the Dayton Daily News, said Betts experimented with various drugs. Additionally, multiple individuals, including Coleman and Johnson, the ex-girlfriend, said Betts told them he had several mental illnesses such as depression and possible bipolar disorder. Neither have been confirmed by authorities.
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Betts’ repeated behavior should have been a massive red flag, said Bernadette Melnyk, Ohio State University chief wellness officer.
“I would never ever want to insinuate that people with mental health issues commit violent crimes, because we know that’s not true based on research, but I think any child or teen that is talking about violence, doing something violent, they need a good mental health assessment,” she said.
She equated it to someone talking about suicide, which many people are quick to blow off as just talk. “If someone is talking about being violent, something needs to be done about that, that is a huge red flag.”
“This young fellow, I think, needed some type of follow up.”
Johnson told the Dayton Daily News Betts found a therapist toward the end of their relationship. She said he said he’d seen a therapist before, but did not know that he saw one with any regularity.
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Betts went to the Oregon District Friday night with his sister Megan and a friend, Chace Beard.
Beard declined an interview request as he recovers from his injuries sustained in Sunday’s shooting. Beard knew Betts for many years. They acted together in a 2012 musical stage adaptation of Willy Wonka at a local church; Betts played a member of the Bucket family.
In May 2016, Betts was pulled over by an officer with the Bellbrook Police Department for repeatedly not using his turn signal. Upon further investigation, the police report states, the officer found Betts was operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol and was arrested.
The report stated there was a general odor of alcohol and that Betts fumbled for documents. Betts admitted to drinking two rum and cokes before driving. Betts failed a field sobriety test, and the officer marked Betts’ attitude as talkative, polite and cooperative.
Beard picked Betts up from jail, records show. Betts pleaded to a lesser offense.
Beard, who now lives in Alabama, was home for a two-week visit when he arrived to the Oregon District with the Betts siblings. He was shot in the hip when Betts opened fire around 1 a.m. Sunday. Beard was one of 14 people who was shot by Betts and lived. He’s been hospitalized since.
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This week, Betts' former girlfriend, Johnson, wrote a six-page letter and gave it to the newspaper to detail what she knew about Betts. She wrote he was at times sweet, but still showed odd behaviors. In one incident, he had her drive him to a girl's house so he could leave her a letter. Johnson said she insisted on reading it. It said 'Welcome to the neighborhood. You can't outrun your past. Signed, your neighbor."
“I asked him about that, about if he knew how messed up that was,” Johnson wrote. “He tried to downplay it as a joke.”
Finally, she wrote, she doesn’t know how to make sense of what he did.
“I have no idea what his motivation was. I will never know,” she wrote. … “This wasn’t a hate crime. He fought for equality. This wasn’t a crime of passion. He didn’t get passionate enough. This wasn’t very premeditated. He wasn’t a thorough planner. I also know that getting shot is exactly what he wanted.”
Staff Writer Lawrence Budd and News Center 7’s John Bedell contributed reporting.
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