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