Breakthrough eludes Md. probe of principal's slaying

Mourners attend a wake in Manassas for Brian Betts, a D.C. middle school principal who was slain in his Silver Spring home.
Mourners attend a wake in Manassas for Brian Betts, a D.C. middle school principal who was slain in his Silver Spring home. (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Less than two hours before police believe he was shot to death, beloved D.C. principal Brian Betts called his sister. It was almost 11 p.m. April 14, and he was worried about her.

He'd heard that their father had driven up from Florida to see her. Is everything okay? he asked.

Fine, she said. Their father had come for Grandparents Day at her kid's school. The two said they loved each other and hung up.

Less than 90 minutes later, detectives think, Betts was dead, shot by someone he had let inside the Silver Spring home where he lived alone.

The mystery of what happened two weeks ago has continued to stymie Montgomery County detectives, even as more than 300 family, friends, students and colleagues were gathering Saturday for a public memorial service for Betts, 42, whose devotion to students and tragic death have captured national attention.

The mystery persists even though Betts left electronic tracks of many of his movements through cellphone calls and text messages. Detectives had hoped that such records would lead them quickly to the killer or killers, but they now think that an arrest could take some time, according to knowledgeable sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

"The case would be closed if it was that easy," one of the sources said.

In the past week, Montgomery police officials have declined repeated requests to discuss the case or answer questions posed by e-mail.

But the sources say the investigation has focused on Betts's movements April 14. He spent the day, a Wednesday, at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, where he was known to greet students personally as they arrived. As much as he liked his job, though, it was hardly without its pressures.

Just two days earlier, he joked to a friend, Julia Weaver, over the phone about the arrival of standardized tests in sealed containers. "Well, my career just arrived here in eight boxes," Weaver recalled him saying.

The pressures also seemed to emerge in a text message he sent Wednesday to a friend and fellow principal, saying that it had been a tough week and asking if the friend wanted to grab dinner. But the friend, Peter Cahall, couldn't make it, and Betts returned to his house, apparently by himself, according to a neighbor who saw him grilling in his back yard.

At 6:45 p.m., Betts updated his Facebook status from a mobile device. "Wow what great weather. grilling out having a cocktail," he wrote, according to friends who saw it. He probably had poured himself a Vodka and soda, with lime, according to his friends.

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