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FBI opens investigation into Dayton shootings, says suspect explored 'violent ideologies'

Posted at 7:38 PM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-06 19:39:28-04

The FBI has opened a separate federal investigation into the deadly Dayton mass shooting, citing the gunman's interest in violent ideology.

Connor Betts sought information about violence and was exploring "violent ideologies" before opening fire on a crowd in the Oregon District Sunday morning, according to Special Agent Todd Wickerham, head of the FBI's Cincinnati field office.

Evidence uncovered so far shows Betts was obsessed with mass shootings and had expressed "a desire to commit a mass shooting," Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl said at a Tuesday afternoon news briefing with Wickerham and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

While Dayton police continue its homicide investigation, Wickerham said the FBI will explore which "specific violent ideologies" may have influenced Betts, whether Betts had an accomplice, if anyone else had advance knowledge of Betts's attack, and why Betts chose Dayton's entertainment district as his target.

Wickerham said there is no evidence so far that Betts's attack was racially motivated or that he was inspired by the El Paso mass shooting on Saturday morning.

"While we do not have true clarity of motive of the assailant, based on evidence obtained, we do have a more developed picture of the evolving mindset of the assailant," Biehl said in his brief remarks.

"Material reviewed thus far reveal the individual had a history of obsession with violent ideations to include mass shooting and had expressed desire to commit a mass shooting. Subsequent material has revealed an orientation toward violent ideologies, which elevates this case to one of federal interest."

Wickerham asked anyone with information about Betts to call the FBI Tipline 24/7 at 1-800-CALL-FBI. You can also upload videos and photos here.  

Betts was not on the FBI's radar before the shootings, Wickerham said.

The update was brief and neither Wickerham nor Biehl would reveal what information they had or where they got it, except to say they didn't get it from Betts's computer. Nor would they comment about other aspects of the investigation.

"It's absolutely critical that we do this investigation the right way. Our community and country deserves answers as to why this happened," Wickerham said.

Authorities say the 24-year-old Betts, of nearby Bellbrook, opened fire outside a stretch of bars shortly after 1 a.m., killing nine and wounding 14. The dead included 22-year-old Megan Betts, the suspect's sister. The wounded included a male companion who drove with Connor and Megan Betts to the Oregon District Saturday night.

Police said 23 others were injured in the chaos as people ran for cover. Some were trampled or suffered cuts.

A quick and heroic response by police prevented an even bigger tragedy, police said.

At the first sounds of shooting, six officers stationed nearby ran to confront Betts. In less than 30 seconds, officers fatally shot him as he tried to enter Ned Peppers bar, while patrons were cowering from the gunfire or running out the back door to escape. Biehl said Monday that it would have been "catastrophic" if Betts had gotten inside the bar.

At least 106 shots were fired - that's how many casings police found - and Biehl said more casings probably got scattered in the rush of people.
Police found 41 casings from Betts' weapon and 65 from police weapons, they said.

Betts' gun, a semi-automatic pistol Biehl said was modified to fire like a rifle, had an ammo drum allowing him to fire up to 100 .223-caliber rounds without reloading, the chief said. Biehl said Betts had extra magazines with him.

Also Monday, Biehl said there were no signs that anyone was wounded by police gunfire but they were still reviewing the evidence.

Police hadn't determined Betts' motive, Biehl said, or concluded whether Betts intended to shoot and kill his sister.

"Based on where we're at now, we are not seeing any indication of race being a motive," the chief said.

Megan Betts was one of the first persons shot, Biehl said.

"It seems to just defy believability he would shoot his own sister, but it's also hard to believe that he didn't recognize that was his sister," Biehl said. "We just don't know."

This story was originally published by WCPO in Cincinnati.