By Camille Williams
The Cincinnati Herald
On the evening of August 3, Chelsea Welch, 24, had just returned from dinner with close friends at El Toro, in Bellbrook, Ohio. They were celebrating new jobs and toasting to bright futures. At a friend’s house they talked for hours, when at about 12:15 a.m., the seven decided to continue their night out at Ned Pepper’s Bar in the Oregon District of Dayton.
“It was your usual hangout,” Welch said. “Everything was fine. Everyone was dancing and having a good time.”
At 1:05 a.m., a gunman opened fire outside of Ned Peppers Bar, killing nine people and injuring another 14. In 30 seconds, police killed the perpetrator, Connor Betts.
Welch said it felt like 20 minutes.
When the first shots rang out, Welch says she and her friends didn’t think the gunshots were real.
“We didn’t think anything of it,” she said. “Honestly, we thought it was part of the song.”
Yet as people from outdoors began running in and the gunfire accelerated, chaos ensued. Welch and her friends immediately ran toward the back emergency exit and lay down.
“Obviously since it was so chaotic, there was only so much running you could do. I’m sure a couple people made it out at the back. But for the most part, no one was really making it out,” Welch said.
Amid the screaming and crying, “People tried to bury themselves under other people, almost like shields,” Welch said.
“I honestly had my eyes closed for a decent amount of it because I was just praying. Going through mind: ‘Only my arm is exposed, if I get shot I won’t die.’ It was just awful.”
Next to Welch, a man stood up and yelled that the police killed the shooter, but she initially refused to believe it. “I didn’t want to think they got him and then stand up and get shot,” she said.
As a few more people ensured the crowd it was safe, people began sprinting to the emergency exit and gated outdoor bar. Despite security guards’ efforts to facilitate evacuation, people were trampled and shoved as they forced their way outside.
“I personally got pushed over, but honestly with adrenaline flowing, I went out the gated door and popped up as fast as possible,” she said.
In the parking lot, people called out desperately for those they came with. Welch said every few minutes she found another friend.
“The scariest part was that one of the girls we came with, we couldn’t find her for the longest time, maybe between five to 10 minutes. We were just screaming and looking for her,” she said. Welch and her friends made it home safely.
Initially, the police couldn’t rule out if there was another shooter. Welch and her friends hurried to their cars and called their parents, still scared of being caught in another shooter’s crossfire.
Welch says that once she arrived at her mother’s house, the gravity of the experience hit her.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I was potentially seconds away from losing my life and my friends’ lives,’” she said. It all just kind of flooded in, and I just lost it and started bawling my eyes out.”
Today, Welch says she feels blessed to be alive. She didn’t personally know any of the victims, yet she says the experience has taken its toll on her mentally.
“I think it’ll get better with time, but right now, it’s still kind of fresh,” she said. “A lot of time it’s just anxiety, like when I’m going around in public places, I feel like I’m always on alert wherever I am. Certain noises and certain sounds can sometimes bring me back to when it happened, just because it was so loud and aggressive.”
Looking back, she said there’s nothing more the bar could have done to prepare for the shooting. “I’m sure they have scenarios planned out for fights and violence, but I don’t think anyone is truly prepared for something that crazy,” she said.
Police found 41 shells at the scene from an AR-15 style rifle. It was the second mass shooting over the weekend and America’s 250th mass shooting this year.