In the early hours after the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio hit the news, I began asking questions about the motives of the shooter and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not there was anything that could have been done to stop it. After more than a day of digging by law enforcement officers and the media, the picture that’s emerging of the killer is convoluted, to say the least. For one thing, one of his first victims in the shooting was his own sister and he also shot (but failed to kill) her “companion.”
Asking different people about his history, his politics and all the rest results in wildly different stories. We learned from his Twitter trail that he called himself “a “leftist” and excoriated QAnon, ICE, the industrial revolution, and police. He’d also said that he would “happily vote for” Elizabeth Warren and he described Donald Trump’s 2016 election by saying simply, “This is bad.”
A couple of locals who knew him casually told reporters that he was “the nicest kid.” But some of his classmates told a far different story, describing a violent young man who was obsessed with killing and loved to scare people.
So were there warning signs? The police said he had no criminal record and nothing would have prevented him from legally purchasing the weapons he used in the attack. But then we learned that he had been suspended when he was in high school after it was revealed that he kept a hit list of people he’d like to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault.
High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault…
Both former classmates told The Associated Press that [the shooter] was suspended during their junior year at suburban Bellbrook High School after a hit list was found scrawled in a school bathroom. That followed an earlier suspension after [he] came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault, according to the two classmates, a man and a woman who are both now 24 and spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern they might face harassment.
“There was a kill list and a rape list, and my name was on the rape list,” said the female classmate.
Officials from the high school aren’t denying this, though they seem a bit tight-lipped about his history. All in all, the story seems to be confirmed. But if he was suspended twice for threats of violence, what happened to the investigation after that? It appears that he served his suspensions and was allowed to return to school and the whole thing was written off, as one student put it, as a case of “boys being boys.” And since it all happened before he turned 18, those records would all be sealed in accordance with state law.
That obviously sounds bad (and it is), likely leaving people to wonder how the story just disappeared. In the context of the shooting that’s an understandable question to ask, but was it really all that unusual? After all, the shooter wrote up some alarming lists and possibly played some cruel pranks to scare girls, but there’s no indication that he ever carried through with any violent actions. I am in no way defending him (obviously) but you can see how the school and local law enforcement might not press for further criminal legal action against a teenager under those circumstances if he kept his nose clean after the suspensions.
It’s easy to say that somebody should have known or done something sooner when we look at it in retrospect. But the truth is that you can look at most any high school in America today and find some boys who did alarming things, possibly resulting in suspensions, but never went on to commit crimes as adults. With that in mind, I don’t really see anywhere that the system broke down in this case or how this could have been prevented.