Shoppers stroll through the Dayton’s Oregon District Monday. It’s been six months since a gunman killed nine people there in a mass shooting. LISA POWELL / STAFF

6 months after Oregon District shooting: ‘We are healing together’

Six months after one of the worst mass shootings in Ohio history, the FBI investigation into the deaths of nine victims has not ended, legislation to change gun and mental health laws have not passed and Dayton and its historic Oregon District continue on the road to recovery.

The shooting on Aug. 4 changed Dayton forever, according to Dion Green, a survivor whose father, Derrick Fudge, died in the attack.

“2019 was an impactful year. As a community we mourned together, we cried together, and we are healing together,” Green said. “We showed the support — and that support, that’s who we are now. Dayton Strong is who we are, and we just got to keep adding and keep that Dayton Strong name alive and never let up.”

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In less than 60 seconds, nine people were shot and killed in the Oregon District. More than 30 other people were wounded, and the entire region was shocked by the events.

Those killed were Fudge, Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; Nicholas Cumer, 25, Thomas McNichols, 25, Beatrice Warren-Curtis, 36 and Monica Brickhouse, 39; and Megan Betts, 22.

Dayton police engaged the shooter, Connor Betts, 24, about 30 seconds after he started firing. They killed him in a barrage of bullets.

Since then, President Donald Trump visited the city and honored the officers, Dave Chappelle held a star-studded Gem City Shine event that drew thousands, and the Dayton Oregon District Tragedy Fund distributed more than $3 million donated to victims’ families.

Signs are still prominently placed throughout the city to remember and honor the victims, memorials made by community members who promised to never forget.

Green said it’s surreal that a half a year has gone by.

“I can’t believe it’s been six months that I haven’t spoken to my father. That kind of raises my eyebrow,” Green said. “But every day, the first day, two years from now, I am still going to have times when the feelings are stronger than other days.”

Community dialogue

Green will speak today at a gathering in the Fitz Center, located at 1401 N. Main St., to open a dialogue about gun violence and to commemorate the victims of the Oregon District mass shooting. The event runs from 2 to 6 p.m. and will include a panel and community round-table discussion.

Participants at the event will hear from Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Ohio Sen. Peggy Lehner, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, University of Dayton professors and advocates. Christina Garcia, who works for the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, will come to the event from El Paso, Texas, to talk about how other communities have responded to gun violence.

Grieving is a process that can last a long time, Centerville psychologist Kathy Platoni said, and coming together is a good remedy for sadness.

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She said it’s expected for people who were directly impacted by one of the many Dayton tragedies of 2019 to need time to heal, but it’s also common for regular citizens who are living around tragedy to feel remorse. And one of the best ways to cope is through volunteering, Platoni said.

“One of the most powerful things that we as a society and human beings can do is reach out to the community and provide some support, some volunteer work to pay tribute to the Dayton community, to the victims of these terrible tragedies, to the families who are still dealing with tremendous loss,” Platoni said.

“To feel a part of something that is larger than yourself that is a noble deed on behalf of your fellow human beings. That’s one of the most powerful ways to get through the feeling that society is deteriorating at its seams. Do something that flies in the face of that,” she said.

FBI probe continues

Meanwhile, as the community continues to heal and mourn, the criminal investigation launched by the FBI is ongoing, Cincinnati FBI Public Affairs Specialist Todd Lindgren said.

He wouldn’t comment further on the investigation. The bureau previously said it was looking into the gunman’s past and his interest in violent ideologies, but stopped short of saying what ideologies he might have engaged in. There is no timeline when the FBI might release its findings.

Also, the only criminal case that has been opened in connection to the mass shooting could come to an end soon. The federal case against Ethan Kollie could be resolved on Feb. 20 when the man accused of helping Connor Betts hide a weapon and body armor he used in the shooting is due back in court for sentencing.

The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office announced last month that Dayton Police officers will not face a grand jury review for their actions during the Oregon District shooting, as is customary after officer-involved shootings. Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said the officers were heroic.

The six officers have also been honored nationally by the president.

Ohio law changes stalled

In the days following the shooting, Gov. Mike DeWine called on lawmakers to pass a universal background check law and he signaled support for a mechanism to allow court-ordered firearms seizures from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

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In October, DeWine pulled the curtain back on Senate Bill 221, the governor’s STRONG Ohio plan which calls for voluntary, incentive-based background checks for private party gun sales, and an expansion of the ‘pink slip’ process that orders people in danger be held for 72 hours in a hospital.

Gun control advocates such as Everytown for Gun Safety say SB221 doesn’t do enough, while the group Ohio Gun Owners says it goes too far.

DeWine said his plan threads a needle between both sides of the issue and it meets his three criteria: it’s constitutional, it’ll be effective, and it can pass the Ohio General Assembly.

“We’re trying to save lives and it will save lives with this bill,” he said.

Several other gun control bills have been introduced in Ohio, but little action has been taken up at this point.

Juvenile records couldn’t be expunged until the offenders reach 28 years old, up from the current 23, under a bill being sponsored by state Rep. Phil Plummer, a former Montgomery County sheriff.

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Plummer, R-Butler Twp., said he wants the records to be available to law enforcement for a longer window because often the profile of mass shooters is a white male in his mid-20s with a juvenile record. Friends and former classmates of Connor Betts said he displayed a history of violent or threatening behavior dating back to middle school and he was suspended for having a hit list.

Under current law, people may ask the juvenile court to seal their records after their case is finished. The sealed records are automatically expunged five years later, or when the person turns 23, whichever comes first.

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