DAYTON, Ohio — On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people.
In a country that has become nearly numb to men with guns opening fire in schools, at concerts and in churches, the back-to-back bursts of gun violence in less than 24 hours were enough to leave the public stunned and shaken. The shootings ground the 2020 presidential campaign to a halt, reignited a debate on gun control and called into question the increasingly angry words directed at immigrants on the southern border in recent weeks by right-wing pundits and President Donald Trump.
“It’s outrageous,” said Terrion Foster, who works in accounting and lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was out shopping at a farmers market near downtown on Sunday afternoon. “It’s really sad because I feel like you can’t go anywhere and be safe. I’m 50 years old and I didn’t think I’d be alive to see some of the things that are going on today.”
The shootings prompted Republicans, including Trump, to condemn the gunmen’s actions and offer support to the people of Dayton and El Paso. Democrats urged Congress to take action and pass stricter gun laws. “We have a responsibility to the people we serve to act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Residents of El Paso were on edge, grimly aware of a manifesto posted online that the authorities said was written by the suspect, Patrick Crusius, 21, who was in police custody.
In Bellbrook, a quiet suburb of Dayton, that residents described as a “utopia,” the typical Sunday morning peace was disrupted by police and news media who swarmed the cul-de-sacs and sidewalks of the neighborhood, where Connor Betts, the 24-year-old suspect, is believed to have lived.
Brad Howard, 25, who had known Betts since before kindergarten and rode the bus with him to school for years, opened his phone and saw the news of his classmate Sunday morning. “It was just another one of those things,” he said. “Just a kick in the teeth.”
Theo Gainey, who lived for 10 years down the block from the Bettses and was a year ahead of Connor Betts in school, remembered him as a “bit of an outcast,” ostracized in large part because of threats he made at school that got him into trouble.
“He got arrested on the school bus” for the threats, said Gainey, who added that he was on the bus himself when it happened. He recalled Betts being a freshman or sophomore at the time. Gainey, 25, did not remember the specifics of the threats but said Betts had to leave school for the rest of that year. When he returned, “the threat thing followed him, and people didn’t want to hang out with him.”
Betts died during the shooting, and his motive appeared unclear. Some details about him began to emerge Sunday: he attended public schools in Bellbrook, took classes at Sinclair Community College in the Dayton area and majored in psychology.
He had been working at a gas station and was registered to continue classes in the fall semester.
Witnesses to the shooting, which occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, described a scene of horror and chaos.
James Williams, 50, had been seated with friends on the patio at Ned Peppers, a bar near where the shooting occurred. He and his friends got up and walked across the street when suddenly, they heard shots.
He and a friend rushed back to the bar and found bodies all over the ground. Officers at the scene were asking for belts to use as tourniquets, so Williams took his belt off. His friend attempted CPR on one of the victims, pumping his chest and urging the man to hang on. He didn’t survive.
“You just wouldn’t believe the people who have pulled together and tried to save these people and there wasn’t any saving,” Williams said. “Most of them were probably dead.”
Across the country, Americans tried to process the weekend of violence while going about their usual routines. On Sunday morning at the National Cathedral in Washington, the Rev. Leonard Hamlin spoke to Americans struggling to grasp the violence and loss of life, on top of what can feel like a long list of national and personal struggles.
“Our real challenge is to look within,” he said. “If you are honest this morning, all of us need to be transformed a little bit more.”
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, people said they had little hope that the events would lead to any policy changes.
“It’s disheartening ... to see so many politicians just keep doing the same kind of wash-rinse-repeat kind of cycle of: mass shooting happens, and then it’s, tweet about thoughts and prayers, and then it becomes, ‘We can’t talk about political ideology, we can’t talk about this and that,’ ” said Greg Cameron, 31, who does marketing for a bike share company.
Laura Platt, 33, a physician, said she wanted to see better gun policies enacted, but had no expectation that that would happen.
“Nothing happened after Sandy Hook, so I think nothing’s going to happen after this,” she said.
EL PASO — The shooting that killed 20 people at a crowded El Paso department store will be handled as a domestic terrorism case, federal authorities said Sunday as they weighed hate-crime charges against the suspected gunman that could carry the death penalty.
A local prosecutor announced that he would file capital murder charges, declaring that the alleged assailant had “lost the right to be among us.”
The attack on Saturday was followed less than a day later by another shooting that claimed nine lives in a nightlife district of Dayton, Ohio. That shooter was killed by police.
Investigators focused on whether the El Paso attack was a hate crime after the emergence of a racist, anti-immigrant screed that was posted online shortly beforehand. Detectives sought to determine if it was written by the man who was arrested. The border city has figured prominently in the immigration debate and is home to 680,000 people, most of them Latino.
Using a rifle, the El Paso gunman opened fire on shoppers during the busy back-to-school season.
The attack targeted a Walmart and did not spread to other nearby shopping areas, El Paso police Sgt. Robert Gomez said.
Most victims were inside the store. By Sunday evening, all bodies had been removed from the store and the parking lot, police said, but no names or ages were released.
Despite initial reports of possible multiple gunmen, the man in custody was believed to be the only shooter, police said.
Law enforcement officials identified him as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius from Allen, a Dallas suburb which is a nearly 10-hour drive from El Paso. He was arrested without police firing any shots and was jailed without bond, authorities said.
Crusius surrendered after being confronted by officers on a sidewalk close to the scene. Police did not know how many bullets were fired or why the attack stopped, Gomez said.
“We don’t have information on what prompted him to stop firing,” Gomez said.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperative and “forthcoming with information.”
The suspect’s grandparents, Larry and Cynthia Brown, issued a statement Sunday evening. A family friend read the statement aloud outside the couple’s home in Allen, KDFW reported.
The Browns said they were “devastated” by the shooting and were praying for the victims. The couple added that while Crusius’ driver’s license shows their Allen residence, he had moved out of the home six weeks ago. Crusius was living with his grandparents while he attended nearby Collin College.
Police said they did not know where the weapon was purchased. The El Paso police chief acknowledged that it is legal under Texas law to carry a long gun openly in a public place.
“Of course, normal individuals seeing that type of weapon might be alarmed,” but before he began firing, the suspect was technically “within the realm of the law,” Allen said.
Relatives said a 25-year-old woman who was shot while apparently trying to shield her 2-month-old son was among those killed. Mexican officials said six Mexican nationals were also among the dead.
Mexico planned to take legal action against whoever sold the gun to the suspect, the country’s foreign minister said. Gun ownership is highly restricted in Mexico, requiring special permits, and gun shops are rare.
About 20 minutes before the shooting started, a rambling screed was posted to an online message board saying the massacre was in response to an “invasion” of Hispanics coming across the southern border.
Titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” it railed against the dangers of mass immigration and warned that Hispanics will eventually take over the economy and government. The writer argued that attacking “low-security” targets was a way to “fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”
Investigators increasingly believe these are the words of Crusius.
“We have to attribute that manifesto directly to him,” El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said Sunday at a news conference. “And so we’re going down that road.”
What remains a mystery is why Crusius chose El Paso, which has figured prominently in the immigration debate, and a shopping complex just five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The scene was a 10-hour drive and a world away from the life he lived growing up in a leafy, upper-middle-class suburb of Dallas.
The first sentence of the online rant posted on the 8chan message board expressed support for the man accused of killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March after posting a 74-page document promoting a white supremacist conspiracy theory called “the great replacement.” That theory, promoted by French writer Renaud Camus, argues there is a plot by elites to replace whites with non-white immigrants in Europe and around the world.
The online rant speaks of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“They are the instigators, not me,” it says. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
Though a Twitter account that appears to belong to Crusius included posts praising President Donald Trump’s plan to build more border wall, the writer of the online document says his views on race predated Trump’s campaign and that any attempt to blame the president for his actions was “fake news.”
Still, some of the language included in the document parroted Trump’s own words, characterizing Hispanic migrants as invaders taking American jobs and arguing to “send them back.” Though the writer denied he was a white supremacist, the document says “race mixing” is destroying the nation and recommends dividing the United States into territorial enclaves determined by race.
The writer went on to say he has an AK-47-style semi-automatic rifle and coolly debates the positives and negatives of using that firearm rather than another military-style weapon, the AR-15, for killing as many people as possible.
An online petition in defense of seven mid-level health care providers barred from practicing locally after leaving Zeid Women’s Health Center had drawn almost 16,000 names by Sunday evening.
The three certified nurse midwives and four nurse practitioners left the Longview health clinic at various dates since late winter, and a lawsuit accusing them of poaching Zeid’s patients is set for trial in May.
The court order barring them from working in the immediate Longview medical market ends June 1. Some have found work outside the city and are considering leaving Longview.
The seven women previously provided women’s health care at Special Health Resources for Texas under a now-ended contract with the Zeid clinic for which they worked.
Dr. Yasser Zeid, owner of the namesake clinic on East Marshall Avenue and a satellite clinic in Tyler, sued the women based on non-competition agreements at least four of them signed.
On May 15, 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles issued the temporary injunction that forbids the former employees from providing women’s health services in Longview until after the trial in 2020.
Nurse Midwife Tamara Little, who started the online petition, plans to return with her retired military husband to Alaska, along with their eight children.
“I can’t work here,” she said. “And I can’t stay here if I can’t work.”
Another of the seven former employees, nurse midwife Mary Beth Smith, said it’s been difficult breaking the relationships she and the other six had formed with more than 900 women.
“Most of those patients have never even seen Dr. Zeid,” Smith said Friday. “They were coming in because of us. Dr. Zeid says they can’t see us anymore. It’s very hurtful to them.”
The petition says nine mid-level practitioners working for Zeid were handed letters of termination Feb. 22 and given one week to sign new contracts with the non-compete agreements. The seven named in the lawsuit did not sign, it says.
It notes that the four Longview women’s health clinics named in the non-compete agreements did not include Special Health Resources, a nonprofit agency serving people with limited resources.
On Saturday, Zeid and his clinic issued a response to the petition. It disputes much of the petition’s claims, saying they are “based on falsehoods and a re-imagining” of events surrounding the employees’ departures.
“The sole intent of the non-compete clause is to prevent this exact situation — employees leaving the practice and taking all of the things provided into a new entity, effectively stealing the practice,” Zeid wrote in consultation with his attorney, Greg Love. “(T)hese women seem to have made it their mission to bring (Zeid Women’s Health Center) down, regardless of the truth or the other people who may be hurt.”
Mid-level health care professionals such as nurse practitioners and midwives must work under supervision of a medical doctor. Zeid’s statement says supervising physicians who performed that role for Special Health Resources conduct their primary practices at the four named clinics.
The statement also notes the women are free to work in neighboring cities including Marshall, Henderson, Carthage and Tyler.
Some are working on just that.
“We’re going to go work for a doctor in Nacogdoches,” nurse practitioner Sheli Kipp said of herself, fellow nurse practitioner Rikki Sandvik and midwife Blanca Foster.
Kipp said the intent of the petition is to let the public know the women’s story.
“We wanted to get the word out about what’s going on,” Kipp said. “And it did.”
She also noted a Nurse.org article describing the Longview dispute, which was taken down Thursday but re-posted with a different headline on Friday. She said the report attracted more than 31,000 views.
“And we’re getting people from all over signing the petition,” she said.
Kipp said she and others have been to the state capitol in hopes of changing the regulation requiring a medical doctor to oversee mid-level practitioners. There, she said, “two or three attorneys” offered assistance.
Smith said she has moved to the Dallas area to be able to continue working.
“The other ladies are not working as of right now,” she said.
After leaving the Zeid clinic, the woman were hired by Special Health Resources. But interim CEO David Hayes fired them in mid-June, saying the one-year ban “tied my hands.”
Smith said the former Zeid employees understand the online petition carries no enforceable weight. The petition is circulating on Facebook, but its home site is www.change.org.
“It’s getting attention and letting him know the people, the patients — they’re the ones that care,” Smith said, noting patient comments on the page. “That (injunction) is taking away a woman’s choice to pick their own provider.”
Marietta Liebengood lived with her family in Costa Rica doing missionary work before she became a teacher. The experience is what helped her truly learn to speak Spanish, even more than all her years of classes, she said.
Now a high school Spanish teacher at Trinity School of Texas in Longview, she is offering the same opportunity to her students.
Nine Trinity School students returned July 28 from a 17-day trip to San José, Costa Rica, where they immersed themselves in the culture and language of the city.
Palmer Mann, a ninth-grader, took the trip for a second year and said he learned more Spanish in a couple of weeks than he would in months in summer school.
“Especially being immersed in the home, because usually the family that you’re staying with doesn’t speak any English at all, or if they do it’s not enough to get you out of speaking Spanish,” Palmer said. “It forces you to use what you learn in class and imprint that in your brain.”
The trip doesn’t get students out of classes, however. They attend Spanish lessons 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday to learn how to speak, write and read the language. In the afternoons, the group goes on excursions around San José and take longer excursions outside the city on weekends.
Liebengood said upon arrival the students do an interview in Spanish with a teacher to determine what level class they are placed in. Palmer said he was in level 6 out of 16, which focused on conversational Spanish.
Students stayed with host families, which Palmer said helped him learn more than just language.
“You get to really immerse yourself in the food, how people live, you learn kind of the local lingo, how life is — the differences and similarities,” he said. “There’s different customs, but there’s also so many similar things; like, my friends and I are pretty into playing video games and we get there and we’re greeted by the 20-something-year-old-son who stays at the house and he was a big gamer.”
Despite seeing so many houses walled off and with barbed wire fencing, the people of Costa Rica welcomed Palmer and his classmates.
“They were very welcoming and warm and open to having us stay,” he said. “They’re also very open to making you feel comfortable.”
This was the sixth year for the trip, Liebengood said. It began with her reaching out to parents to see if there would be enough interest, and after a positive response, she was able to get it approved by the school.
Families pay the full cost of the trip, but any student in middle and high school can attend, she said.
Some of the excursions stay in the city, such as museums, city tours and dance or cooking lessons, she said. But weekend ones outside the city include beaches, volcanoes, kayaking and other sites around Costa Rica.
Palmer said they also played soccer with local children and visited a coffee plantation.
“Being able to go on a trip like this ... it’s just amazing,” Palmer said. “It was an amazing experience I’m so grateful to be able to have done it.”