D.C. principal killed by men responding to call to dating chat line, police say
Four people arrested in connection with slaying
Four people have been arrested and two have been charged with murder in connection with the April 14 slaying of Washington, D.C., school principal Brian Betts, who Montgomery County Police believe called a dating chat line the night of his death and was killed by the men who responded.
The arrests, made throughout the District and Prince George's County Monday, are major developments in the otherwise quiet three-week investigation that began after Betts was found dead April 15 in his home on Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring, the victim of at least one gunshot wound.
Alante Saunders, 18, with no fixed address, and Sharif Tau Lancaster, 18, of the 5300 block of Fifth Street NW in Washington, D.C., were both arrested in the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill Monday. Both have been charged with first-degree murder and will have a bond hearing Tuesday in Montgomery County District Court in Rockville.
Lancaster's fingerprints were found inside Betts' bedroom and Saunders' fingerprints were found inside and outside Betts' 2007 Nissan Xterra, which was stolen from his residence the night of his murder and found on April 17 in the 3900 block of Fourth Street SE in the District, alleged Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger in a press conference Monday evening.
Another 18-year-old male with no fixed address is expected to be charged with first-degree murder as well, Manger said, but he will not be identified until those charges are filed. Police also arrested Artura Otey Williams, 46, at her home in the 5300 block of Fifth Street NW in Washington, D.C., Monday morning, after executing a search warrant.
Williams, who is Lancaster's mother, has been charged with two counts of knowingly receiving a stolen credit card with the intent to use it, attempted theft less than $1,000 in value, and attempted fraudulent credit card use, Manger said. Williams is in police custody in D.C. awaiting extradition to Montgomery County, said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy.
There is surveillance footage of Williams using Betts' credit cards on April 16 at the Giant Foods grocery store at 1280 East West Highway in Silver Spring, according to a police news release. It is not known why she was in Silver Spring a day after Betts' body was found, said Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman. Betts' wallet was found in the Southview Drive residence, as was a receipt for a pair of Nike shoes dated after police believe Betts was killed, which is around 11:30 p.m. April 14, Manger said.
Manger said the suspects were connected to Betts through a national chat line "described as a sex chat line and social networking line." Police do not know how many people responded to Betts' home or how the suspects were connected to the chat line, but they said that the motive for Betts' death is believed to be robbery. Both Lancaster and Saunders have no known ties to Betts prior to the alleged phone call, the news release said.
Additional suspects and charges may follow, Manger said.
"This is still a very active investigation," he said.
Betts, who would have turned 43 April 29, was found dead in his home in the 9300 block of Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring April 15 after coworkers at Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School in the District noticed he hadn't been at school that day and visited his home. He was found fully clothed in his bedroom, the victim of at least one gun shot, police said, and there was no evidence of forced entry to his home.
Police also learned that a car was witnessed leaving an alley adjacent to Betts' Columbia Boulevard home at 12:15 a.m. April 15 but do not know who drove the car. Police found Betts' blue Nissan Xterra on April 17 in the 3900 block of Fourth Street SE in the District, 14 miles away from his Silver Spring home and just blocks from the Third Street SE residence searched Monday. Police believe it was left there a day before, and witnesses saw two men exit the car.
Search warrants were executed on four residences early Monday: at Lancaster and Williams' residence in northwest D.C.; at the Southview Drive residence where Lancaster, Saunders and a third suspect was arrested; in the 4300 block of Third street SE in the District; and in the 2400 block of Southern Avenue in Temple Hills. Police would not disclose why the latter two residences were searched, Starks said.
The Metropolitan Police Department's SWAT team, the U.S. Marshals' Fugitive Task Force, and both Prince George's and Montgomery County police detectives swarmed all four residences in executing the search warrants Monday morning.
D.C. resident Charmaine Payne was sitting on her godmother's porch early Monday morning when she heard a loud boom just several doors down at 5315 5th St. NW, the home of Williams and Lancaster.
"They blew the door open," Payne said of the police who used a kind of explosive to gain entry into the home. With the front entrance smoking, Payne said a team of police rushed into the house with masks on and shields up.
As Payne spoke Monday evening, a young girl pulled the curtains closed on the second floor of Williams' home. Williams moved into the neighborhood about four years ago, said another neighbor who declined to give her name because of fear of being drawn into the legal process.
Williams, who the neighbor said wasn't married, worked long hours helping people who are handicapped and drove a white van to and from work, sometimes coming home as late as 11:30 at night, the neighbor said. At least four people may have lived in the house, the neighbor said, and another that chose to remain anonymous believed Williams was renting her home.
In the 4300 block of Third Street SE, James Stevenson, a 10-year resident who lives two apartment buildings over from the one raided Monday, said officers in about 30 cars arrived around 7:30 a.m., prohibited neighbors from leaving their homes and stayed for about an hour and a half.
The raid at Southview Drive occurred on the ground floor of a brick, three-story apartment building, neighbors said. Barbara Barrett, who lives in the building next door, said she got home around 9:40 a.m., and she saw "quite a few'' police around.
"I asked one of them what was going on and they said they were arresting someone and they wouldn't say why," Barrett said Monday evening. "I want to know if I'm living with a killer or something.''
Before coming to Shaw, Betts had taught at Rock View Elementary in Kensington, Redland and Neelsville middle schools in Rockville and Germantown, respectively, and was 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.
Betts' Columbia Boulevard home is the same home where, on Aug. 6, 2002, Anthony Quintin Kelly, of Washington, D.C., now 46, shot and killed 47-year-old George Russell and his 9-year-old daughter Erika Smith. In an interview with The Gazette last week, Therese Cox, the Washington, D.C., realtor who helped Betts buy the home from the Russell estate in 2003, said neither she nor Betts knew of the previous murder when Betts moved in. After Betts found out the home's history, Cox had an exorcism performed at the home by two ministers.
Staff Writers Jeremy Arias, Jeanette Der Bedrosian and Amber Parcher contributed to this report.