Ohio gunman's ex-classmates decry missed chances to stop him
By MICHAEL BIESECKER and JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended years ago for compiling a “hit list” and a “rape list,” and questioned how he could have been allowed to buy the military-style weapon used in this weekend’s attack.
The accounts emerged after police said there was nothing in the background of 24-year-old Connor Betts that would have prevented him from purchasing an AR 15-style rifle with an extended ammunition magazine that he used to open fire outside a crowded bar early Sunday. Police on patrol in the entertainment district fatally shot him less than a minute later.
The former classmates told The Associated Press that Betts was suspended during their junior year at suburban Bellbrook High School after a hit list was found scrawled in a school bathroom. That followed an earlier suspension after Betts came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault, according to two of the classmates, a man and a woman who are both now 24 and spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern they might face harassment.
“There was a kill list and a rape list, and my name was on the rape list,” said the female classmate.
A former cheerleader, the woman said she didn’t really know Betts and was surprised when a police officer called her cellphone during her freshman year to tell her that her name was included on a list of potential targets.
“The officer said he wouldn’t be at school for a while,” she said. “But after some time passed he was back, walking the halls. They didn’t give us any warning that he was returning to school.”
The male classmate, who was on the track team with Betts, said Betts routinely threatened violence toward other students.
“Most people avoided him,” the man said. “He would say shocking things just to get a reaction. He enjoyed making people feel scared.”
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools officials declined to comment on those accounts, only confirming that Betts attended schools in the district.
The discovery of the hit list early in 2012 sparked a police investigation and, according to a Dayton Daily News story at the time, roughly a third of 900 Bellbrook students skipped school one day out of fear of a planned attack.
Another former Bellbrook student, who also spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns of harassment, recounted to AP that he was on a school bus when a uniformed police officer came on board, asked for Betts by name and then escorted him off.
It’s not clear what became of that investigation. Police Chief Michael Brown in Sugarcreek Township, which has jurisdiction over the Bellbrook school, wouldn’t answer any questions about Betts from an AP reporter Monday. Asked about a hit list in high school, the chief said “I don’t know anything about that.”
Later, Brown’s department emailed media outlets “everything we have on Connor Betts.” The file included a 2015 crash report from when Betts ran his car into a ditch and a copy of a 2012 Ohio state law that requires all sealed records of juvenile crimes to be expunged either after 5 years or on the offender’s 23rd birthday. Department officials did not respond to questions about whether those records still exist.
Though Betts, who was 17 in 2012, was not named publicly by authorities as the author of the hit list, the former classmates said it was common knowledge within the school he was the one who got in trouble over the incident.
Drew Gainey was among those who went on social media Sunday to say red flags were raised about Betts’ behavior years ago.
“There was an incident in high school with this shooter that should have prevented him from ever getting his hands on a weapon. This was a tragedy that was 100% avoidable,” he tweeted.
Former Bellbrook Principal Chris Baker said he “would not dispute that information” when the Daily News asked him Sunday about the hit list suspension. He declined to comment further to the newspaper or the AP.
Hannah Shows, a 23-year-old former Bellbrook student, told AP on Monday that she, too, was on the list of girls Betts wanted to hurt after she rebuffed his advances. She remembers that he used to pretend like he had a gun and was shooting at them.
“It’s baffling and horrible that somebody who’s been talking for 10 years about wanting to shoot people could easily, so easily, get access to a military grade weapon and that much ammo,” she said.
Betts had no apparent criminal record as an adult and it is not clear what, if any, criminal charges Betts faced when he was under 18 — especially if his records were expunged. Ohio law bars anyone convicted of a felony as an adult, or convicted of a juvenile charge that would have been a felony if they were 18 or older, from buying firearms.
“There’s nothing in this individual’s record that would have precluded him from getting these weapons,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Sunday.
Not everyone who went to school with Betts had bad things to say.
Brad Howard told reporters in Bellbrook on Sunday that he was friends with Betts from preschool through their high school graduation.
“Connor Betts that I knew was a nice kid. The Connor Betts that I talked to, I always got along with well,” Howard said.
Mike Kern, a customer at the gas station where Betts used to work in Bellbrook, said he “was the nicest kid you could imagine. … I never heard him talk about violence, say a racist word, or anything like that.”
He said they sometimes played trivia at a bar near the gas station and Betts impressed with his knowledge of current events and pop culture.
“He was real smart,” Kern said. “He knew all the answers.”
Biesecker reported from Washington. AP reporters Reese Dunklin in Dallas, John Seewer and Robert Bumsted in Bellbrook and Michael Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.
Follow Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck and Smyth at http://twitter.com/jcarrsmyth