I-team: Man Who Knew Oregon District Shooter Comes Forward

Editor’s note: As part of WHIO’s months-long search to know if Oregon District shooter Connor Betts' juvenile court records could have possibly stopped him from legally buying the two guns he used in the Oregon District mass shooting, WHIO-TV, along with other media outlets, sued for the records to be released. Last Thursday, the Ohio state Supreme Court denied that request. On the same day, the man quoted in this story contacted the I-Team wanting to speak about his family and friends' experiences with Betts. He knows some, including his son, would not want to speak with us and would not like what he has to say. He also knows many will question the vulgar music that was his connection to Betts. He says he felt compelled to share his story, though, hoping information like this will help prevent future mass shootings. As journalists working to understand why something so horrific happened in our community, the I-Team felt a responsibility to hear and share his story.

Every time Ron Tinkham sees a story about media outlets, including WHIO-TV, attempting to obtain Oregon District shooter Connor Betts school records, he says he is overcome with a feeling journalists should be looking elsewhere in the search for answers following the mass shooting on Dayton’s Fifth Street that left nine dead, dozens hurt, and countless lives forever changed.

“I don’t think it came from his past. I think it came from what happened in the last couple years of his life,” Tinkham said as part of an exclusive I-team interview with News Center 7′s Sean Cudahy. The interview took place on the same day the Ohio Supreme Court ended WHIO’s 15-month legal battle to obtain Betts' school records from the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district.

Tinkham said Betts was at his home nearly every week in the year leading up to the August 4, 2019 shooting, playing a vulgar genre of heavy metal-punk style music with his son and other bandmates.

“He was a friend but he was more of an acquaintance that came into the group,” Tinkham said. “We didn’t call him, he called us. It was that sort of thing.”

Tinkham’s son, who he says knew Betts better than him, declined participation in this I-team story.

From his vantage point, Tinkham said there were no signs anything might be wrong with Betts.

“Nobody saw anything or nobody thought anything like this was going to happen,” he said. “I wouldn’t want somebody in my home that I thought was any threat to us whatsoever.”

However, previous I-Team reporting has revealed past concerns about Betts. Police said Betts was on drugs at the time of the Oregon District shooting. A pattern federal affidavits, previously uncovered by the I-Team showed, referencing years of drug addiction and abuse issues Betts battled since high school.

I-Team reporting last year also confirmed a ‘hit and rape list’ Betts made during his time in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district, along with other middle and high school violent incidents.

>> Former classmates reveal new details in Oregon District shooter’s violent past

However, Betts' juvenile court records were wiped clean two years before the shooting because of his age. Ohio law requires juvenile records be expunged at 23 years old. Therefore, there was no paper trail to possibly prevent the 24-year-old from legally buying two guns used in the Aug. 4, 2019 attack.

Citing student privacy laws last week, Ohio Supreme Court justices ruled 6-1 against releasing Betts' school records to WHIO, and other media outlets, seeking to find out if information in Betts' school records would have revealed past behavior concerns.

Justices cited the “unambiguous” language in the Ohio student privacy law in question, arguing it protects the confidentiality of records, even if a student is deceased.

Tinkham said no one in his circle was aware of past concerns surrounding Betts. He also emphatically believes events in the final months of Betts' life may have profoundly impacted his mindset.

Following the Oregon District attack, Tinkham said his son, who declined to be interviewed by the I-Team, described Betts displaying concerning behavior during a Chicago trip.

“They said that he brought a gun or something with him, and made comments about using it. So they got a little weary of him when they got back,” Tinkham said.

Betts' behavior upon returning, he added, also concerned his son and friends.

“He started to say weird things,” Tinkham remembers his son sharing with him. “He (Betts) started to ask people for money from the shows. Like, email them later ask money from the shows. And that’s what started them getting bothered by his behavior.”

According to Tinkham, his son cut ties Betts following a July 17, 2019 show at Hannah’s on Ludlow in Downtown Dayton – 18 days before the attack. Tinkham said Betts, at that point, had effectively been kicked out of two different bands during a relatively short period of time.

Past I-Team reporting also revealed a split between Betts and his girlfriend in the late spring of 2019.

“Him being alienated from his big group of people he always hung around, I think took a little effect on him,” Tinkham said.

Tinkham also wonders if the extreme heavy metal-punk music that was his and his son’s connection to Betts, full of vulgar lyrics, could have had a very different impact on Betts, compared to other group members.

“With this kind of music we always joke around with things. We always say things that are just – it’s out of context – but we’re just joking,” Tinkham said. “And we just think that, I don’t know, maybe he took that stuff literally. Or maybe he thought these things.”

Federal investigators admitted soon after the 2019 attack they had uncovered evidence Betts was “exploring violent ideologies.”

The I-Team contacted both Oregon District mass shooting investigation agencies. Dayton Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation representatives confirmed they were aware of the story Tinkham told – of Betts' acquaintances apparently cutting ties over concerning behavior in the weeks and months prior to the attack.

An FBI spokesperson added the agency is exploring that and ‘other factors’ in its' investigation into Betts' motive for the killings, but declined to release specifics.

As for Tinkham, the thought of his group’s split with Betts so close to the attack continues to haunt him.

“We all feel grateful to be around,” he said. “It could have been any of us.”

Tinkham hopes coming forward provides additional context in the Dayton community’s search for answers in a terrible night that forever changed so many lives.