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Police recover SUV of slain D.C. Principal Brian Betts

 Brian Betts's Nissan Xterra at scene in Southeast
Brian Betts's Nissan Xterra at scene in Southeast (Daniel de Vise)

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By Dan Morse and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2010

A dark blue sport-utility vehicle that belonged to beloved D.C. schools Principal Brian Betts turned up Saturday, parked next to a church van and tucked behind a children's ministry in Southeast Washington.

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The clean, apparently undamaged Nissan Xterra was 14 miles from the Silver Spring home where Betts, 42, was found dead Thursday of at least one gunshot wound. Montgomery County detectives retrieved the car and searched it for evidence.

"Somebody was in it," said Capt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery police spokesman. "We want to find out about the person who was in it."

Betts was a rising star in D.C. public schools as principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, where he had gone to work in 2008 with a handpicked staff of young teachers as part of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's citywide school overhaul movement. Colleagues alerted police Thursday after Betts did not report for work. Police say they think he was killed by someone he let into his home. Betts's clothed body was found inside a bedroom, police said Saturday.

Detectives quickly learned that the Nissan was missing, as were items from Betts's home. Since discovering the body, the police department has released few details, concerned that doing so might tip off any suspects to what they know.

Police are trying to piece together a timeline of where Betts was and who he was with in his final hours. Neighbors have said they saw him in his back yard Wednesday evening.

It wasn't uncommon for him to have friends over. In his back yard Saturday was evidence of those gatherings: two grills, and a hot tub perched on a deck.

From the start of the case, detectives wanted to find the Nissan, which residents said appeared in the 3900 block of Fourth Street SE between noon and 1:30 p.m. Friday.

"We just figured it was a stolen vehicle, because it was hidden behind our vehicle," said Sherrita Mullen, who lives and works at the Metro D.C. Kids' Konnection, housed in the building next to where the car was found.

The Nissan was parked off a lonely alley, between a large white van and an embankment, a spot where it could be glimpsed only from a few spots on the sidewalk.

Mullen said she returned from lunch Friday to find the Nissan. A neighbor told her that "some young guys just pulled up in the back and parked it there, and then they just came running across and left," Mullen said.

Efforts to find a direct witness to that account were unsuccessful Saturday.


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