The firearm used by the shooter Connor Betts, 22, is projected on a screen during a press conference Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, about a mass shooting that left left multiple people dead and 26 injured along the 400 block of E. Fifth Street, in Dayton, Ohio. (Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP)
DAYTON, Aug 5: High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault.
The accounts by two former classmates emerged after police said there was nothing in the background of 24-year-old Connor Betts that would have prevented him from purchasing the .223-caliber rifle with extended ammunition magazines that he used to open fire outside a crowded bar. Police on patrol in the entertainment district fatally shot him less than a minute later.
Both 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 the two 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.”
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 roughly one-third of Bellbrook students skipped school out of fear, according to an article in the Dayton Daily News.
It’s not clear what became of that investigation. Chief Michael Brown in Sugarcreek Township, which has jurisdiction over the Bellbrook school, did not return calls Sunday about whether his agency investigated the hit list.
Though Betts, who was 17 at the time, was not named publicly by authorities at the time as the author of the list, the former classmates said it was common knowledge within the school he was the one suspended 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 wrote on in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Gainey did not respond to messages from AP seeking further comment, but the name on his account matches that of a former Bellbrook student who was on the track team with Betts.
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 and the AP was unable to reach him.
Betts had no apparent criminal record as an adult, though if he had been charged as a juvenile that would typically be sealed under state law.
“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 hasn’t seen Betts in about a year.
“He was the nicest kid you could imagine,” always friendly, Kern said. “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 often knew the answers on questions about current events and pop culture.
“He was real smart,” Kern said. “He knew all the answers.”