A man who fatally gunned down nine people outside a Dayton, Ohio, bar had long wrestled with mental illness that manifested itself in a fascination with tragedy, uncontrollable urges to unleash violence and suicidal thoughts so deep he twice put a gun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger, a woman who dated him said Tuesday.
Though her account failed to pinpoint what drove 24-year-old Connor Betts to carry out Sunday’s attack, the woman who said she went out with him for a few months earlier this year offered the most detailed portrait yet of a troubled young man obsessed with the darkest of thoughts.
“I have no idea what his motivation was. I will never know,” Adelia Johnson wrote in a 2,200-word recounting of the relationship she sent to reporters and posted online. “There wasn’t a hate crime. He fought for equality. This wasn’t a crime of passion. He didn’t get passionate enough. This wasn’t very premeditated. He wasn’t a thorough planner.”
The tone was set on their first date, she said, when Betts showed her a video of last year’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and narrated it play-by-play. Later, he steered conversations to talk about world tragedies and his suicidal thoughts.
“He trusted me with so much of his darkness that I forgot most of it,” Johnson wrote, adding that she brushed off much of what she heard. Talking about serial killers made sense as it was a theme in a Sinclair Community College psychology class they both were taking, a captivation with disaster and violence was offset by the sweetness of a “perfect gentleman,” and joking about a desire to hurt others was seen as the coping tool of a man grappling with illness.
Johnson said she and Betts bonded over their mental illnesses: He told her he had bipolar disorder and might also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
And she said he confided that while he loved guns, he didn’t believe those with mental illnesses should be allowed to have them.
Johnson showed The Associated Press text message exchanges with Betts to corroborate their relationship. She said she didn’t have any photos of them together.
Betts’ high school classmates said he was once suspended for compiling lists of students he wanted to rape or kill.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Tuesday that Betts had a “history of obsession with violent ideations with mass shootings and expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting.” Todd Wickerham of the FBI said “we have uncovered evidence throughout the course of our investigation that the shooter looked into violent ideologies.”
Authorities have not pinpointed a motive for the shooting, but said Betts was wearing a mask and body armor when he opened fire with an AR-15 style gun outside a strip of nightclubs in Dayton early Sunday.
Looking back, Johnson said two moments in her relationship with Betts stand out as “red flags.”
In March or April, on the road in Illinois for a gig with his heavy-metal band, she said a drunk and slurring Betts called her and said something about how “he wanted to hurt a lot of people.” Later, in May, Johnson said Betts was planning to leave a letter at the home of an ex-girlfriend that warned her, “You can’t outrun your past.”
That time, Johnson said, he tried to downplay it as a joke, but she knew it wasn’t. When she pushed him to explain, she said he spoke of “uncontrollable urges to do things,” including a time he set fire to an abandoned building. She said she knew she had to break things off, without her own capacity “to be his therapist.”
When Johnson got a text from a friend who also knew Betts after the shooting asking if she thought he could be the gunman, she didn’t think it was possible. Though he had problems with his parents, she knew him to like his sister, who was among those killed.
How could this man who once expressed her love for her be behind such evil, she asked herself.
With police swooping in so quickly early Sunday as the attack was unleashed, and Betts killed in the gunfire, an answer seemed unlikely to come.
“Him getting shot is exactly what he wanted,” she wrote. “He would be the first one to tell you that he hated himself.”
Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker in Washington contributed.
Sedensky reported from New York and can be reached at email@example.com and https://twitter.com/sedensky