I was asked to write this story by my editor at BizpacReview. To the victims of mass murders, whether it’s terrorism like San Bernardino or a mentally ill killer like Aurora, Colorado, making these events into political theater is “insulting, insensitive and off-base,” as my writing colleague Frieda Powers wrote. Powers lost her cousin Benneta Betbedal in the San Bernardino massacre.
For one of us at BPR, the cold-blooded act of terror is more than just a story—it’s deeply personal.
Writing for a political news blog, it’s easy to get caught up in the vitriol and arguments surrounding events. Things can get reduced to a simple Internet meme, or the hot news story of the day, as investigations unfold.
A steady stream of reporting news puts anyone at risk of becoming detached, inoculated to the violence and grief suffered by people who have been injured or lost loved ones.
But every so often, a personal connection intrudes into the jaded world of the journalist, reminding us that terror has an incalculable human cost to its victims and their families.
Watching the news, BPR writer and editor Frieda Powers began to put the pieces together: “San Bernardino, health inspector,” she heard.
“Wait, doesn’t my cousin live nearby?” Powers thought. Then, “I went numb. That is what my cousin does: a county health inspector.” The reality hit her. “And a holiday party? Of course she would be there.”
All night, the news offered no comfort or confirmation when the mother of three didn’t come home and could not be reached.
In the morning, Benneta Betbadal’s daughter messaged, ”Please pray for my mom. We have no information.”
Powers heard Betbadal’s son plead with God: “God please find my Mommy, she’s a good Mommy and I need her.”
And while this human drama played out, the pundits, President Obama, and the left-wing press tweeted about gun control. “One thing was very clear in the hours we waited and even once we found out,” Powers said. “The gun control debate was insulting, insensitive and off-base.”
Betbadal and her parents came to the U.S. from Iran in 1988. Her life was a struggle from the beginning. “She was a miracle,” Frieda wrote, explaining that her parents had lost one child at birth, and tried for many years before she was born.
They didn’t so much emigrate from Iran—nobody simply packs up and moves to the United States—they escaped. In the midst of the terrible Iran-Iraq war, Betbadal’s life was a surreal mix of daily activities like school, “punctuated with siren blasts, seeking shelter and avoiding gunfire and bombs.” The family escaped by planning a “vacation” to Turkey, and then sought refuge in America.
Little did they think that the Islamic extremism, war, and death they fled would find them in California. Not this way. Betbadal’s father said it was “not fair.” Her mother still can’t speak coherently about her daughter—she just cries.
Betbadal’s husband Arlen, in an emotional interview, told Fox News what he’ll remember most about her. “Everything,” he said. “She was an angel.” Her 15-year-old daughter called her mother “amazing,” adding with a smile, “She would have wanted me to be strong, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Arlen, a veteran 20-year police officer praised his chief, partners, and fellow officers for their support. But mostly, he asked for their prayers. “Pray for my family,” he said. “Pray for my kids, that they would do well without their mom.”
Betbadal, 46, left behind her husband and three children, ages 15, 12, and 10. A GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for the Betbadal family has raised over $65,000 as of Saturday.
As for Powers, she’s seen the evil face of terrorism close up, and it has changed her. “It is profoundly clear now that each name, each victim, is a real person, with a real family and a whole story,” she said.
This story first appeared at BPR.