Dayton shooter was armed counter-protester at Ku Klux Klan rally

Published: Tuesday, August 06, 2019 @ 6:45 PM

Connor Betts
Connor Betts

The man who killed nine people in Dayton’s Oregon District was seen carrying a gun and protesting against the Ku Klux Klan at a rally downtown in May.

Connor Betts, 24, was shot and killed by Dayton police during the Sunday morning rampage. Neither the police nor the FBI have identified a motive for the attack, though the federal authorities said Tuesday he “was exploring violent ideologies” before the shooting.

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The May 25 rally attracted about 500 to 600 counter-protesters who opposed the nine Klansman who came from Indiana and protested in Courthouse Square. The counter-protest group was fenced 0ff away from the Klansman and several people in the crowd were seen carrying firearms.

Hasan Karim, who knew Betts and grew up in Bellbrook in the same high school class, was in the crowd accompanying freelance journalists and was taking pictures of the event. Karim bumped into someone in the crowd and the man told him ‘You don’t know me.’ The two said hello to each other and Karim recognized Betts by his voice, body and mannerisms in their brief interaction.

Betts wore a bandanna covering part of his face and sunglasses. He carried a gun which appeared to be similar in style to the one used in Sunday’s shooting. He did not appear to be part of any group that was in the protest crowd.

The Indiana KKK group’s rally and counter-protest events resulted in no arrests, no uses of force by police, and no injuries.

Mayor Nan Whaley said she was relieved, but reiterated her frustration that a small number from out of town having such a large impact on city operations for months. She also said the planning helped shine a light on issues that continue to divide the community.

“This ugly chapter is over, but it means we have to get back to the real work: making sure that no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love, you can have a great life here in Dayton,” Whaley said.

In Sunday’s attack, Betts wielded a semi-automatic pistol that police say was modified to act like a rifle, with an attached drum magazine that could hold up to 100 .223-caliber rounds. Police say he may have had up to 250 rounds of ammunition on him, and they found a shotgun in his car.

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Federal authorities have found no evidence that race was a motivating factor in Sunday’s attack, FBI Special Agent Todd Wickerham said Tuesday. Six of the nine people Betts killed were African-American. Betts was white.

The Dayton Daily News reported Monday that a friend of Betts told police the would-be Dayton shooter discussed mass shootings. But the friend, Will El-Fakir, told the newspaper Betts was “definitely not a right-leaning person. His political views definitely leaned to the left.”

Voting records reviewed by the Dayton Daily News say Betts had been a registered Democrat.

Josh Sweigart, Avery Kreemer and the Associated Press contributed reporting.