EL PASO, Texas and DAYTON, Ohio — El Paso opened a grief center on Tuesday to help people cope with last weekend’s shooting at a Texas Walmart in which 22 people were killed and many others were wounded. In Dayton, Ohion, public conversation about a shooting that took 10 lives shifted Tuesday toward how to address people with mental health issues who might pose a threat of violence.
A woman who briefly dated the gunman recounted their bonding over struggles with mental illness, and the Ohio governor called for more mental health support along with gun safety measures.
The topics of gun violence, immigration, public safety and mental health folded together as separate attacks over the weekend resulted in mass casualties.
In El Paso, President Donald Trump was due to visit the border city, much to the chagrin of some Democrats and other residents who say his fiery rhetoric has fostered the kind of anti-immigrant hatred that may have motivated Saturday’s attack.
El Paso’s police chief, Greg Allen, said investigators believe the suspected gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, posted an anti-immigrant screed that appeared online shortly before the attack. Crusius is being held on capital murder charges, though federal prosecutors are also considering charging Crusius with hate crimes.
On Monday, Crusius was assigned a veteran public defender from San Antonio, Mark Stevens. Stevens didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment left Tuesday.
Trump on Wednesday was also expected to visit Dayton, where another gunman killed nine people and wounded many others in an attack only hours after the El Paso mass shooting. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway recounted visits Trump has made to grieving communities after mass shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Las Vegas.
“He goes, trying to help heal communities, meeting with those who are injured, those loved ones who have survived, the innocents who have lost their lives so senselessly and tragically,” Conway said.
El Paso’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, announced Trump’s visit at a news conference Monday evening, preemptively defending the decision to welcome the president while acknowledging there would be blowback: “I’m already getting the emails and the phone calls.”
Margo has previously criticized Trump for suggesting that El Paso, which had fewer homicides in all of 2017 than the death toll in Saturday’s attack, was a dangerous and unsafe place.
“This is not a political visit as he had before, and he is president of the United States,” Margo said, referring to a campaign rally Trump held in February. “So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to be with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community and hope that if we are expressing specifics, that we can get him to come through for us.”
In Dayton, police haven’t publicly offered a motive for why 24-year-old Connor Betts, wearing a mask and body armor, opened fire with an AR-15 style gun outside a strip of nightclubs in Dayton early Sunday, killing his sister and eight others before officers fatally shot him less than 30 seconds into his rampage.
A woman who said she briefly dated him earlier this year said in an online essay that Betts had “dark thoughts,” including about wanting to hurt people. Adelia Johnson, 24, said they met in a college psychology class and bonded over dealing with mental illness, which she said allowed Betts to open up to her.
Johnson said she was in treatment but that Betts “didn’t want to seek help because of the stigma.” He told her he thought he had mental illnesses including bipolar disorder, she said.
“When he started joking about his dark thoughts, I understood,” she wrote. “Dark thoughts for someone with a mental illness are just a symptom that we have to learn how to manage.”
Johnson said on their first date, Betts showed her a video of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. She said Betts had “uncontrollable urges” that she called “red flags,” which eventually led her to call things off in May. When she broke up with him, she said she reached out to his mother to express her concern, but she didn’t elaborate on what they discussed.
It’s unknown whether any of the Dayton victims were targeted. Besides Betts’ sister Megan, 22, the others who died were Monica Brickhouse, 39; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Derrick Fudge, 57; Thomas McNichols, 25; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; and Beatrice N. Warren-Curtis, 36.
Betts was white and six of the nine killed were black, but police said the speed of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.
Hospital officials said 37 people have been treated for injuries, including 14 with gunshot wounds.
Sugarcreek Township police said the only records they have on Betts are from a 2015 traffic citation. They noted without further explanation that Ohio law allows sealed juvenile court records to be expunged after five years or when the person involved turns 23.
Bellbrook police say they weren’t aware of any history of violence.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said it’s clear Betts exhibited anti-social behaviors in high school that should have alerted those around him to a problem. But Betts had no apparent criminal record as an adult, and police said there was nothing that would have prevented him from buying a gun.
DeWine on Tuesday called on the Republican-led legislature to pass laws requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales, allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats, and improving access to in-patient psychiatric care for those who need it most.
“If we, after a tragedy, only confine ourselves to doing those things that would have prevented this tragedy, we are missing a real opportunity,” DeWine said. “So we need to look at these tragedies together.”
Trump has said he wants Washington to “come together” on legislation providing “strong background checks” for gun users.