Police tracking clues to slain principal
Nearly a week after a beloved Washington, D.C., middle school principal was found slain in his Silver Spring home, the region's school community, neighbors and police still are searching for answers.
Montgomery County Police have been tightlipped about their ongoing investigation into the death of Brian Keith Betts, a principal at Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School in the District, who was found dead in his bedroom Thursday evening, the victim of at least one gunshot wound. After originally investigating the killing as random, police have since ruled the incident a homicide, declining to disclose any additional information about possible suspects because it might compromise the investigation, said Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman.
When 42-year-old Betts wasn't standing on his usual corner greeting students at V and 10th Street N.W. in the District early Thursday morning, the staff at Shaw began to worry.
When the principal did not show up to the afternoon staff meeting or answer phone calls, the atmosphere in the school became tense.
"That kind of flew up the red flag," Shaw's baseball and football coach Jeffrey McCauley said Friday.
Staff members' worst fears were realized when the school's vice principal and counselor traveled to Betts' home in the 9300 block of Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring Thursday evening, noticed a light on in an upstairs bathroom and called police. He was fully clothed and lying dead in his bedroom when he was found, and there was no sign of forced entry or ransacking, Starks said.
One of the detectives' only leads so far is a blue Nissan Xterra that belonged to Betts, which was found Saturday in the 3900 block of Fourth Street S.E. in the District, 14 miles away from his Silver Spring home, Starks said. Police have determined the vehicle was abandoned between noon and 3 p.m. Friday by two men, but there is no further description of the individuals.
"They were in a stolen car, so they would be treated as suspects for a stolen car," Starks said Tuesday when asked if the two men were being treated as suspects in the homcide. "Whether they have anything to do with his murder we can find out when we catch up with them."
A guiding light in education
Before his death, Betts was a pioneer in the program of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to reform the District's public schools. Rhee recruited Betts to become Shaw's principal in 2008 to revitalize the struggling D.C. school, which temporarily had merged with Garnet-Patterson. He immediately won over students.
Shaw parent Kevin Bey said he liked Betts so much he asked the new principal to be his children's godfather only two weeks after meeting him. And a graduating eighth-grade class took to Betts' style which included eliminating homeroom and recess so well they requested to remain under Betts' tutelage for an additional year.
"He was by far one of the best principals I had," Rhee said Friday, an off day for Shaw but a day where hundreds from the school's community gathered on the grounds to remember their leader.
"I still can't even begin to realize that he's gone," said teary-eyed ninth-grader Dominique Watson as she clutched a copy of a photo of a smiling Betts in front of a library.
Betts worked in Montgomery County Public schools for 20 years, as a teacher at Rock View Elementary in Kensington, Redland and Neelsville middle schools in Rockville and Germantown, respectively, and as an assistant principal running the arts magnet program at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Wheaton from the school's opening in 2005 to 2008.
Loiederman Principal Alison Serino said Betts was destined for a ground-breaking career in education reform.
Despite sudden chilly weather, about 100 people in the Loiederman community gathered around the school's flag pole Saturday night for a candlelight vigil, sharing memories of a man who they said personally touched all of their lives.
"He was more than a teacher, he was a friend," said eighth-grader Tekoa Carter.
Educator Marco Martinez followed Betts from Loiederman to Shaw and said he was just as drawn to the principal as the students were.
"I've never seen a group of kids so eager to stay in the same building," he said.
Staff Writer Susan Singer-Bart contributed to this article.