Investigators believe that an Ohio gun store owner possibly prevented a mass shooting.
John Downs, owner of Downs Bait and Guns in Hocking County, Ohio, typically chats up his customers when they enter his store. However, while talking to 25-year-old James Howard on March 21, Downs had a “gut feeling” about certain statements the young man made while attempting to purchase a rifle.
"The look on his face, his eyes,” Downs told WBNS News. “I just knew something was wrong.”
Even though Howard passed a background test, the store owner decided against selling him any weapons or gear.
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"He started cussing me and this and that, before he left he said, 'You don't know who I am,'” Down recalled to WTTE News. “I just said, 'You know what bud, I have a really bad feeling about this, I just can't sell you the gun.'"
Downs contacted sheriff’s deputies after refusing the sale. About an hour later, Howard returned to the store, which led the owner to call 911.
"I had some customers in here, put them all in a back room and I locked the door, turned the light out and shut my open sign off," Downs said.
Authorities then followed the 25-year-old to Walmart, where he purchased black clothing, black gloves and tried to buy a large amount of ammunition. Howard was arrested without incident during the purchase. Police conducted a search warrant on his car and found “a .22 Caliber rifle, multiple receipts, miscellaneous paperwork involving medical and mental health."
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“[Downs] saw something suspicious and his feelings were right,” Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North said, according WCMH News.
Howard had reportedly withdrawn as a student from Ohio University on March 21 and assaulted a staff member. University police issued a warrant for Howard's arrest but suspected he had fled the area. They warned surrounding counties about Howard and said the former student told a friend he was planning to purchase a gun.
"I believe [Downs] did prevent a mass shooting that was probably going to occur at Ohio University in Athens," North said.
Howard is facing charges for burglary, assault and a weapons charge, and police said he could face additional charges in relation to the March 21 incident. He is being held on a $100,000 bond and underwent a mental evaluation on March 23, according to WBNS News.
Although Downs does not consider himself a hero, the local community is glad he trusted his intuition.
“I mean everyone has their own issues to deal with but, good for that one guy recognizing signs and calling the cops,” Ohio University student Kailey Clark told WCMH News.