Assyrian Americans Celebrate Life of San Bernardino Shooting Victim

The remembrances came from the lips of children and their parents Saturday night at a North Hollywood community center run by the Assyrian American Association of Southern California. 

That's where the Assyrian Scouts meet weekly and where Bennetta Betbadal was their leader and teacher. "She was very sweet and committed to what she was doing," said Angelica Bitmallou, 12. "She really liked teaching. She always had a smile on her face." 

Angelica was among the boys and girls who are members of Assyrian Scout Troop 6732. A Scout Christmas party had been planned for Saturday. Instead, they and their parents chose to celebrate Betbadal's life and the meaning of Christmas. 

Betbadal, said Scout Master Klay Gorgin, was the first to volunteer to help with camping trips and outings. She taught the children the ancient Assyrian language through song and other ways to make it easy for them. 

She treated all the Scouts, boys and girls, like her own. "Anytime we needed something," Gorgin said, "she was a phone call away." On Wednesday, Betbadal was among the 14 victims shot to death at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino by a husband and wife now linked to Islamic extremism. 

Her family and friends called her death a heartbreaking twist of fate. Betbadal, an Assyrian Christian who was born in Iran in 1969, fled to America when she was 18 to escape the extremism that followed the Iranian Revolution, her family had said in a statement. 

For Assyrian-Americans, the loss of one of their own is felt far and wide because there are so few from the nation left in the world. Last year, the Islamic State began its rampage in the Middle East by threatening Assyrians and other Christian and ethnic minorities to either convert to their form of beliefs, or die. Some people were captured and continue to be held as hostages. 

Many fled their ancestral homelands to refugee camps. "She had a huge impact, especially for us, because we're such a small, tight-knit community," said Bella Pirnejad, the Girl Scout leader. "There are so few of us, and so we feel like brothers and sisters," said parent Johnny Mansour. 

"To lose her, for every Assyrian, felt like losing a sister." "For us, she was a blessing. She was the best at teaching the language,"added Robert Yalda, who founded Troop 6732 more than 30 years ago. The troop number signifies how old the Assyrian nation was at that time, he said. 

Betbadal was married and had three children, two boys and a girl ages 10, 12, and 15 who were members of the troop. After graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in chemistry, she took a job as an inspector with the San Bernardino County Health Department in 2006. A GoFundMe account has been established to assist her family. 

By Susan Abram

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