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Sister, father recall slain principal as devoted to students



The sister and father of Brian Betts, who was killed inside his Silver Spring home this week, were kind enough to speak with us on Friday.

Jennifer Altomare, Betts's sister, said a police officer woke her up early Friday morning at her Southern Maryland home. She was soon on the phone with a homicide detective in Montgomery County, who told her what had happened.

"The whole family is devastated," said Altomare, 39.

She and Brian, her only sibling, grew up in Manassas. Their parents, Delbert and Doris Betts, now live in Florida. Delbert Betts, by chance, was visiting Altomare and when the police arrived. Her father could hear the conversation coming through the phone, and also knew by his daughter’s reaction that something devastating had happened.

Doris Betts was driving up from Florida on Friday afternoon. She was particularly close to her son.

"Right now we're sort of stunned," Delbert Betts said. "We were extremely proud of him."

In far-reaching conversations, Betts and Altomare talked about how Brian grew up, why so many people liked him and how excited he was to be at the forefront of reform at D.C. schools.

Delbert Betts hopes detectives find his son’s SUV. "With the vehicle, I think they’ll find the person who did it," he said.

Growing up, Betts was a protective older brother. He could pick on his younger sister, but no one else could, Altomare recalled.

At Stonewall Jackson High School, in Manassas, Va., he was active in musicals and served as a student body president, Altomare said. He went on to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was on the cheerleading squad.

After graduation, he moved back to the Washington area, lived in the District, and eventually moved into the house in Silver Spring. He found out about its past only after moving in, Altomare said. [A prison parolee on a crime spree broke through a kitchen window and shot a 9-year-old girl and her father in the same house in 2002.] At first it bothered him, then he settled in. "He loved that house," Altomare said.

She said that when she went through a divorce, and was feeling down, her brother planned long weekends to New Orleans and Las Vegas, and insisted she go with him. "How many brothers do that for their sister?" she said.

As for going from a well-regarded school district -- Montgomery County -- to a troubled one -- D.C. -- "It was a challenge for him, and he accepted it," his father recalled.

Before he started the job at Shaw, he gave his sister and parents a tour. "He was very excited," his sister said.

He reached out to nearby business owners, inviting them to get involved in the school and tell him if they had problems.

Once in the job, he seemingly worked all the time, taking an intense interest in his students.

"A lot of them would call him before they called their parents if they got in trouble," Altomare said.

Outside of work, Betts liked to go to sporting events and travel. He doted on his two nieces -- 9 and 11 -- serving as godfather to both of them. By early afternoon Friday they also were devastated.

"They know that someone killed their uncle," Altomare said.

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  |  April 17, 2010; 12:08 AM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse , Montgomery  
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Comments

Silly Willy Bulldog - Keep it classy. How can you make comments or judgments about his personal life when you don't even know his ACTUAL name?

Posted by: juve11 | April 17, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

ITS A SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS WHEN SOMEONE COMES AROUND AND KILLS SOMEONE SO SPECIAL. I HOPE THEY FIND THE PERSON THAT CAUSED THIS MUCH PAIN IN THE COMMUNITY, THIS IS A LOUSY WAY TO PAY FOR HUMANITY. I HOPE AND PRAY FOR THE PEOPLE THAT ADORED MR BRIAN BETTS. ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS REMEMBER ALL THAT HE HAS BROUGHT INTO THIS SCHOOL AND IN TO THEIR COMMUNTIY. GOD BLESS EVERYONE THAT HAS KNOWN MR BETTS. INCLUDING HIS FAMILY, STUDENTS, AND CO-WORKERS. I HOPE THEIR PAIN STOPS. AND MAY GOD GUIDE THEM THROUGH THEIR LIVES, SOMEDAY THEY WILL SEE HIM AGAIN.

Posted by: Cherokee316 | April 17, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

For others that have never met this man you are just thinking that he was just another person who was caught in the crossfire of the cruel world we live in. My son attends this school and Mr. Betts was the best principal theses children have seen in many years to come. He wasn't a person who was out to collect the paycheck that came along with the job, he was the man to help these kids try to stay on the straight and narrow. These children were more than students to him they were family. He treated them like his own, he will truly be missed. This is a great tragedy. For the person who took this great principal from these children you have taken more than a life but a great inspriration ful of promise. He will be truly missed for those who knew and interacted with him.

Posted by: lolitaj32 | April 17, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I am so sorry for the family. I am also sorry for the many kids in his school.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | April 18, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Let's hope that the murderer (or murderers) is caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced. Mr. Betts' students need to witness justice served and that might also set an example for any of them who are straying or considering straying.

Posted by: DecafDrinker | April 18, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

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