Jaylen Betschart was a friendly and highly respected student athlete who had just entered his senior year at Sacramento High School, on his way to college and working toward a professional career.
The 17-year-old was found Saturday with a gunshot wound near Granite Regional Park in Sacramento. Police officials said his vehicle crashed into a power pole and detectives are investigating his death as a homicide.
He was a star athlete, a quarterback and a baseball player who loved both sports and had dreams of becoming a college athlete before embarking on a professional sports career that would allow him to help support his family, said Domina Stamas, his science and physics teacher at Sacramento Charter High School.
She said Betschart was a good student and a great kid who stayed out of trouble at school and made his classmates feel respected.
“It didn’t matter who you were, he welcomed you in his space,” said Stamas, who had Betschart in her class last year and at the beginning of this year. “In class, he made them feel accepted.”
A broad spectrum of fellow students, including middle school and elementary school students he befriended, showed up at a impromptu vigil at McClatchy Park on Sunday evening.
Stamas said she wanted to find a space for her students to express their grief. She said many of these students haven’t seen each other for months as the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into distance learning to prevent further spread of the infectious respiratory disease.
Sunday’s vigil was somewhat quiet, Stamas said, along with a lot of tears and hugs from students who knew Betschart or were just shocked after hearing news of his death.
“And he loved his teammates; those were his boys,” Stamas told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “(The students) needed to be together.”
The teacher said it’s shocking to her and others at Sac High to learn how Betschart’s life ended, considering how well liked he was.
“In our eyes, it’s very random,” Stamas said about the shooting that took the young man’s life.
The Sacramento Police Department said officers at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday responded to a single-vehicle crash in the 8300 block of Jackson Road, near the intersection with Folsom Boulevard.
Officers arrived at the scene, just outside the College/Glen neighborhood east of Power Inn Road, and found the driver inside the vehicle, which had crashed into a pole. The officers determined the boy suffered a gunshot wound and began life-saving efforts, but he was pronounced dead, according to a police news release.
Homicide investigators did not have any suspect information and had not determined a motive for the shooting.
Stamas said Betschart’s family was devastated by his death. She said his parents were both former Sac High students and their family has a strong connection with the community.
This isn’t the first time Sac High has dealt with the loss of students to gun violence.
Deston Garrett was just a few days shy of graduating from high school in June 2016 when he was shot at his home in the 3900 block of 45th Street. Garrett, 19, was a wide receiver known as “Nutter” who played football for Sac High for four years.
Another young man, Fredrick Marshall, was arrested and charged with Garrett’s death. Garrett’s family has said the shooting was the result of an argument over a song mix Garrett had created and uploaded to YouTube.
Tamir Williams was one of two 15-year-olds who were were found with gunshot wounds in the 5800 block of 64th Street. Both were taken to a hospital, where Williams eventually died. The two teens were former Sac High students.
Stamas said Sunday’s vigil for Betschart was even more tragic knowing the Sac High students, faculty and staff have grieved like this before.
“This isn’t the first time it’s happened to me or (the students),” Stamas told The Bee.
Investigators asked anyone with information about Betschart’s shooting death to call the Police Department’s dispatch center at 916-264-5471.
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