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'He was my first and only love,' says mother of 8 whose husband was killed

Jessa Weaver Betts parked her gray van a few feet from the street where her husband, 51-year-old Carl Sebastian Betts, was killed.

The mother of eight turned to her 11-year-old son in the passenger seat and gave him some instructions: Stay in the car; lock the doors; do not eat the cakes in the back.

Jessa Betts, 47, of Apple Valley has struggled over the past few weeks to raise money for her husband’s funeral by selling meals. Taco Tuesday. Chicken Wing Wednesday. Fish Dinner Friday. An assortment of cakes in the back seat was the latest inventory. Over 10 days she’s raised $790, but she’s still worried. That money will barely cover the church rental fee.  

In the car on Wednesday in South L.A.'s Manchester Square neighborhood, she glanced in the rear-view mirror, affirming her cool demeanor, then stepped out.

The scene of Carl Betts’ death still lingered on the street. Bullet holes had pierced the neighboring houses and vehicles. A dried patch of blood marked the spot where first responders pulled Carl Betts from his car.

Jessa Betts broke down, tears rolling down her cheeks, her shoulders shuddering. Wearily, she moved toward where he lay on the ground, bleeding. She knelt and stroked the spot. “He was my first and only love," she said through her tears.

Jessa Betts

Before the killing, Jessa Betts was in Los Angeles with her family for a couple of days for a gathering to remember her late daughter, Johnessa, 29, who died of complications from leukemia last year.

On May 31, the night of the killing, Carl Betts, who had been in L.A. separately visiting his family in the area, was with a friend, and they went to visit others in the 1900 block of West 85th Street in Manchester Square.

When the men arrived in a rental car at the friend’s house, friends began to come outside. Within seconds, a dark-colored sedan pulled up along the driver’s side, and Carl Betts was asked a dangerous three-word question: “Where you from?”

The gunman opened fire into the car. Carl Betts was pronounced dead at the scene. The other man in the car was not injured.

Shatioishia Van, 47, was one of the friends walking out of the home when the gunman opened fire.

“The bullets, the car speeding away, the police showing up. It all happened so fast," Van said. "All I could do was react.”

At a memorial this week, people placed blue, yellow and white candles in front of the home where Carl Betts was shot and continued to leave other items to remember the man whom family and friends described as a jokester and a sports fan.

A bottle of Remy Martin cognac sat among the candles, although Jessa Betts said her husband did not drink. A pair of Clubmaster sunglasses rested atop a Dallas Cowboys football, his favorite team. Van, the neighbor, said she placed one of Carl Betts’ favorite doughnuts -- powdered, creme-filled -- at the scene. Someone had taken it later that day.

“A lot of this stuff is random, but most people don’t have much to bring. So I appreciate that they care enough to leave something," Jessa Betts said.

Jessa Betts

Jessa Betts, who wore three buttons bearing a picture of her husband’s face, stared down at the memorial. She said she will remember her husband as the sly young man who picked her up in an arcade on Normandie Avenue more than 30 years ago. She was playing a game of "Pac-Man" when Carl Betts approached her and commented on her jeans. 

“What’s all that?” Carl Betts asked, referring to the writing on her pants.

“They’re cute,” she responded.

“I think you’re cute too,” he flirted back. 

The couple grew up in the neighborhood, sneaking off to be together. At 16, Jessa ran away from home to be with Carl Betts. The two got married seven years later at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas.

Wiping away tears, Jessa Betts chuckled when she remembered a conversation they had two days before he died.

He was leaving the house in Apple Valley to get his disability check in Los Angeles. Jessa Betts did not want him to go because she knew how dangerous the area could be, and she began to hassle him.

“I love you, but you’re mean," he kidded.

He then told her he would deal with the hassling as long as he lived, Jessa Betts said. And she said she would keep it up, standing right beside him.

Anyone with information about the May 31 shooting is asked to call the LAPD's Criminal Gang Homicide Division at (323) 786-5113. Anonymous tips can be made via Crime Stoppers: (800) 222-8477.

-- Jerome Campbell

Photos: (Top) Jessa Weaver Betts holds a picture of her husband, Carl. (Middle) Jessa Betts at the spot on West 85th Street in Manchester Square where her husband was shot. (Bottom) Shatioishia Van comforts Jessa Betts at the memorial for Carl Betts. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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