Archdeacon: Oregon District survivors, best friends: ‘We survived the impossible'

They first met as 8-year-old girls on the same soccer team in Dayton. They ended up at Springboro High School together where they became top athletes and great friends and that connection carried straight over into their college careers.

Cameron Campbell became a sprinter on the Wright State track team and Kasey Hughes was the point guard on the Baldwin Wallace basketball team.

In the past year – ever since that deadly night in the Oregon District – their bond has deepened even more.

“We’re like sisters now,” Kasey said.

“It’s like we’re attached at the hip,” Cameron said with a laugh.

Last month – each with her 11-year old sister in tow – they went to Kasey’s grandparents’ beach house on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

“It was an all-girls trip and we were having a great time,” Cameron said. “It was my sister’s first time seeing the ocean and on the Fourth of July we went down to the beach for the fireworks. I didn’t expect it to bother me, but as soon as they started going off, it hit me.

“My heart sank.

“Just the sound of those fireworks brought me back to that night like it was yesterday.”

Credit: © Courtesy Wright State Univers

Credit: © Courtesy Wright State Univers

Suddenly, it was just past 1 a.m. last August 4th and she was huddled with Kasey in a small Fifth Street doorway in the Oregon District.

They were just 10 feet or so away from the front door of Ned Peppers Bar, which is where a 24-year-old gunman – clad in black body armor and rapid firing a modified AR-15 assault weapon – was running towards as he shot .

In just 32 seconds, he killed nine people and injured 27.

“As we hid there, the gunshots didn’t stop,” Cameron said. “It seemed like they went on so long.”

In the past Cameron has not wanted to talk publicly about the ordeal, but she did so with indelible detail and new perspective when we spoke the other day.

Kasey, on the other hand, shared her thoughts with me few months ago and right off had made one thing clear:

“I’d be dead if Cam wasn’t there.”

They had begun that night at the Hole in the Wall, another night spot in the downtown entertainment district. Eventually, they decided to move next door to Neds, but encountered a line of 20 people waiting to get in.

“I went to the back of the line and Kasey was a couple steps behind me when I heard what sounded like fireworks,” Cameron said.

The gunman had burst onto Fifth Street from an alley passageway across the street and begun what would become Ohio’s deadliest mass shooting.

Kasey admitted she froze, but Cameron grabbed her and said “Move!”

Cameron credits her response, in part, to her parents, who grew up in Dayton and have tutored their six kids on what – even though they live in Springboro now – can happen in the city.

“I love Dayton – I’m from Five Oaks and went to CJ – but like any city, it can be dangerous,” said Fred Campbell, Cameron’s father. “I saw things growing up. I had friends get killed in high school.

“And I think Cameron has learned to be aware, to have her head on a swivel.”

As Cameron explained: “I had no idea what I was gonna do. I couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from, but we ended up in the doorway. Kasey was really jumpy – she was crying and screaming – and I was just trying to hold her tight and tell her: ‘Everything’s OK.’”

But it wasn’t.

Two people who had been in front of them in line were shot and fell right in front of them. Kasey thinks both were dead.

Unbeknownst to them, their whole ordeal was captured on a Ring doorbell camera behind them. The 98-second, black and white footage has no sound, but it spoke volumes once the Dayton Daily News posted it online and it went viral. To date it’s had over one million views worldwide.

When Kasey got her mother on the phone, she was hyperventilating and sobbing and could only utter a few clear phrases, including: “He’s trying to kill us!‘”

Cameron got on the phone and set up a meeting place with Kasey’s mom just west of the Oregon District. She then called her dad who tried to calm her and get her thinking clearly.

“Finally a cop came up and said, ‘He’s down! He’s down!’” she said. “We stepped out and just a few feet away the gunman lay there with the cops on top of him.”

Police had shot him just as he was about to burst into Ned Peppers.

“We started running down the road (Fifth Street) and people were losing their shoes and crying and some had blood on them. Other people were just lying in the street.”

They briefly ended up in a parking lot where Cameron said panicked people – some injured – were frantically searching for their cars:

“A lot of them shouldn’t have been driving. They were scared and I remember seeing at least three cars run into other cars as they tried to escape.”

The pair finally reached Kasey’s mom, who had pulled into a gas station on Main Street. The next day Kasey’s dad returned to the scene and said he found bullet holes in both sides of the door frame where the two young women hid.

“I want to say, we survived the impossible,” Cameron said quietly.

‘Oh my God, my daughter was right there'

Fred didn’t realize his daughter had been right in the heart of the attack until Cameron woke up later in the day:

“I had been watching the Ring footage all morning and never knew it was her until she said ‘That’s us!’ That’s when it hit me: ‘Oh my God, my daughter was right there.’”

When Kasey got home, she was throwing up and he couldn’t breathe. Within a day, she met with a trauma counselor and in the months that followed she worked with various mental health personnel to come to grips with her ordeal.

Cameron leaned into her family, which includes three older brothers – two who played college football, one who’s now in the Army – and two younger sisters.

“We’re a strong, close family and we all have each other,” Fred said. “We constantly communicated from the moment it happened because it didn’t just happen to Cameron, it happened to all of us.”

He said some of the same lessons he and his wife Erin bank on are used in sports: “The idea of teamwork and understanding it’s not just me. That what I do reflects on my family…And that’s what love is: How you make the people who love you feel.”

The two young women mostly found solace in each other. Immediately after the shooting they went to Kasey’s grandparents’ place in the Outer Banks to decompress.

Once their school years began, Cameron often visited Kasey at Baldwin Wallace. One weekend they went and each got a 937 tattoo on their arms.

That’s the Dayton area code and they never wanted to forget where they were from and what they had endured.

Each of them was having the best sports season of their careers until another attacker -- this time COVID-19 -- ended their competitions and their on-campus classes.

A record-setting sprinter at Springboro, Cameron had shown promise at Wright State as a freshman, but then was sidelined much of two seasons with a nagging foot injury that required surgery. She was finally healthy during the indoor season last winter.

“I was PRing (setting personal records) every meet in my events,” she said. “I was really excited about our outdoor season because I tend to do better outdoors.”

Meanwhile, with Kasey at point, the Baldwin Wallace team went 28-2 last season, was ranked No. 5 in the nation (Division III) and had made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. But the night before they were to play top-ranked Hope College, the NCAA shut down all competition because of the pandemic.

Both women finished their classes online. Kasey, a Dean’s List student with a 3.89 GPA – won her league’s all-academic honors for the third straight year.

She plans to attend law school next year and until then is working as a sales rep for a marketing agency that focuses on law firms.

After getting her degree at WSU, Cameron was accepted into grad school there. With her summer internship with the Dayton Dragons scuttled by COVID 19, she’s working an internship with Wagner Subaru.

Later this month she begins pursuing a degree in Sports Management. She said because of the way the WSU sports administration helped her and other Raiders’ athletes, she now wants to be an athletics director.

Over the next year, the two women plan to be roommates and have been searching for an apartment or condo.

“After all we’ve been through, I’m to the point where I think, ‘OK, what’s next?‘’' Cameron said. “I’m ready for anything else life throws at me.”

Using their voices

Cameron said she first returned to the Oregon District within a month of the shootings:

“I had a Dayton Dragons internship and I was helping with their fall merchandise. I was doing a photo shoot with them.

“We went to the Oregon District and I saw where I’d been standing, where everything happened and it was hard. But I’ve said it before: ‘It’s not where I was that made it happen. It can happen anywhere. It was the person.’”

While Cameron’s returned couple of other times, Kasey has not been back to the Oregon District.

The two still do venture out in the evenings though. Although he worries when any of his kids goes out at night, Fred said he doesn’t let last year’s event overwhelm him:

“I not gonna worry greater now because of the shooting. That’s just what that guy wanted you to do. That’s what he wanted his legacy to be: ‘I changed them. I changed everyone there. They’re not having fun in the Oregon District no more!’

“I’m proud of my daughter and her resilience through the whole ordeal.”

The legacy from this shooting belongs to Cameron and Kasey, not the killer. They have each found their voice in the past year.

“I think about how no mentally healthy person is going to wake up one day and go shoot people,” Cameron said. “There’s no way – and I don’t want to speak badly of his friends or family – but there’s no way there weren’t signs that he wasn’t mentally well. They showed up in high school.

“And that’s something – not just here, but everywhere – that we as a country need to recognize and address.”

Kasey – who was the editor of her college newspaper and had taken part in a gun violence protest in Dayton two years before the Oregon District shooting – has always spoken out about what she believes:

“For a couple of months after the shooting, I couldn’t go out, but eventually I got through it. And I began to realize because of my experience, I have an opportunity now – a responsibility – to speak up when things are challenging.

“Now with COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, people are listening and I figure it would be awesome to share my own story.

“I’ve thought about making a video. People know I express my views on gun violence and racism and sexism – anything that goes against human rights. I’ve been very posty since the Black Lives Matter moment, letting people know where they can sign petitions and how to help and who to support.”

She said that’s what she eventually wants to do when she gets a law degree:

“When I look back at what happened to us, I think Cam and I are just really blessed to be here. And now there’s a purpose to this. I’m definitely one of those people who believes I’m going to be put in the exact spot I need to be.”

And thanks to her best friend – her “sister” – that’s just what happened on that deadly night one year ago.

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