National Night Out events in Dayton took on a new importance Tuesday night as residents came to thank police after six officers stopped a shooter from killing more people in an Oregon District massacre that left nine innocent people dead.
Penelope Brown attended one of five neighborhood Night Out stops, which are designed to connect community members and their police officers.
“If there is any light in all of this darkness, it is the Dayton Police Department,” Brown said.
Just three days after the shooting, city leaders and police and fire personnel visited the Night Out events, including one in Newcom Park in the Oregon District.
A crowd of roughly 100 people at the Oregon District event broke out in applause when officers and city officials arrived.
Marie Jansen and Jeffrey Delk had tears in their eyes when police came.
They said they wanted to personally thank police for their efforts during the shooting.
“We wanted to come shake hands with them or give them a hug,” Jansen said. “We also wanted to come down and support the businesses on Fifth Street.”
Brown stopped to take a selfie with a group of officers gathered at Residence Park.
“This is literally Dayton’s finest. They come and support this event every year, but this year is just extra special,” Brown said. “I think our community needs this right now.”
Brown wasn’t the only person who wanted a photo with the police.
Since Sunday, Dayton police officers said they’ve had an outpouring of love and thank you messages from people in the community.
Brown said it was overwhelming to see the police after what happened.
Dayton police killed the gunman, 24-year-old Cody Betts, in less than a minute after the shooting began as he was trying to enter Ned Peppers bar. Officers then immediately administered first aid and CPR to the wounded.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said that if the gunman had made it into the bar, many more would have been injured and killed.
At least 37 people also were injured, some by gunfire and others as people fled the shooter.
Biehl said he has more than 100 emails, some from people he knows and others from total strangers, thanking him and his department for their service.
“I haven’t had a chance to read through all of them, but it brought a tear to my eye. It’s very special,” Biehl said.
Scott Gibson, who lives in the Oregon District, said the shooting will not define Dayton.
“This city is too wonderful, it is too strong. But also, things like this are so prevalent that this is the new normal.”
Officer Kevin Cooper said many people have approached him, wanting pictures or wanting to say “thank you.”
One family gave Cooper flowers as he was walking down East Fifth Street, where the shooting happened.
“There were three little girls, and the littlest asked if she could put her flower on the memorial in front of Ned Peppers,” Cooper said. “I said I thought that’d be a great idea.”
Dyan Thomas, a Dayton police officer in the motorcycle unit, said she thinks this year’s National Night events were more meaningful, given what had happened in the Oregon District.
Thomas expected many heartfelt conversations from the Night Out events.
Although she wasn’t at the scene when the shooting happened, Thomas said she has had many community members thank her for her service.
“It seems like the world is full of hate,” Thomas said. “But I have seen so much love. People are mistaken when they let incidents like this define their view of the world.”