Trump to visit Ohio city rocked by gun massacre amid calls for unity
Nine people were killed after 24-year-old Conor Betts opened fire in a busy entertainment area of Dayton, Ohio.
US president Donald Trump is set to visit the city of Dayton in Ohio, days after nine people were killed there in a mass shooting.
Mr Trump has called for unity after two gun massacres shocked the United States over the weekend, with the other taking place just hours before in El Paso, Texas.
White House officials said Mr Trump’s visits to Texas and Ohio, where a combined 31 people were killed and dozens wounded, would be similar to those he has paid to grieving communities in the past.
However, Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, questioned whether the presidential visit will help, and expressed disappointment in Mr Trump’s remarks in the immediate aftermath of the massacre which included an erroneous reference to Toledo instead of Dayton.
She said: “I can only hope that as president of the United States that he’s coming here because he wants to add value to our community and he recognises that that’s what our community needs.
“Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart — that’s up to the president of the United States.”
Connor Betts, 24, opened fire in Dayton’s Oregon entertainment district in the early hours of Sunday morning, killing nine people including his 22-year-old sister. He was shot dead by police within 30 seconds of the start of his rampage.
The FBI announced it has opened an investigation into Betts’ desire to commit a mass shooting and his interest in violent ideology.
Ohio’s Republican governor Mike DeWine said it is clear Betts exhibited anti-social behaviours in high school which should have alerted those around him to a problem.
Two former classmates told The Associated Press that Betts was suspended from 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.
But Betts had no apparent criminal record as an adult, and police said there was nothing that would have prevented him from buying a gun.
Mr DeWine called on the Republican-led Legislature to pass laws requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales, allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats, and improving access to in-patient psychiatric care for those who need it most.
“If we, after a tragedy, only confine ourselves to doing those things that would have prevented this tragedy, we are missing a real opportunity,” Mr DeWine said. “So we need to look at these tragedies together.”
Mr Trump himself said on Monday he might call for more stringent background checks if such a measure could be paired with immigration reform, although he did not offer specifics.
Special Agent Todd Wickerham, who announced the FBI investigation, did not say if agents are looking at whether the Dayton shooting should be treated as domestic terrorism, as the agency has done in the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Gilroy, California. He said Betts had not been on the FBI’s radar.
Meanwhile, a woman who said she briefly dated Betts spoke to reporters and wrote an online essay, saying the two bonded over struggles with mental illness.
Adelia Johnson, 24, said they met in a college psychology class. Johnson said she was in treatment but that Betts “didn’t want to seek help because of the stigma.” He told her he thought he had mental illnesses including bipolar disorder, she said.
“When he started joking about his dark thoughts, I understood,” she wrote. “Dark thoughts for someone with a mental illness are just a symptom that we have to learn how to manage.”
Johnson said on their first date, Betts showed her a video of last October’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in which a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire and killed 11 people.
The family of Betts and his sister, Megan Betts, released a statement through police on Tuesday night, saying they are devastated and co-operating with the investigation.
It is unknown whether any of the Dayton victims were specifically targeted. Besides Megan Betts, 22, the others who died were Monica Brickhouse, 39; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Derrick Fudge, 57; Thomas McNichols, 25; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; and Beatrice N Warren-Curtis, 36.
Betts was white and six of the nine killed were black, but police said the speed of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.
Hospital officials said 37 people have been treated for injuries, including 14 with gunshot wounds.