Sunday, March 10, 2002

Victim's mom:

'It can happen to anybody'

        “You know,” Barbaranne Irving says, twisting a lock of her shoulder-length hair around a beautifully manicured nail, “it's like those nightmares when you are so glad to wake and realize it wasn't real. And for 14 months I just kept waiting to wake up.”

        Her 25-year-old daughter, Cassandra Betts, was shot and killed in December 2000. Just this past week, she read the autopsy report. “I brought this child into the world,” Ms. Irving says, “and I had to know how she left it.”

        Blunt impact to the abdomen, the report said. Lacerations of the liver. “It is clear to me,” she says, “that he tried to kill his own baby before he shot my daughter in the head.”

Little big man

        “He” is Tony Ringer, sentenced last Thursday to 21 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The “celebrity barber,” whose clients included Reds and Bengals players, killed Cassandra Betts after she refused to abort her six-week-old fetus, prosecutors said.

        “She had talked to her minister the very night she was killed,” Ms. Irving says. “She had a plan.” Cassandra, a media buyer, had just moved to Fairfield. to be closer to her mother in West Chester.

        The young woman had obtained a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend in October, then dropped it. “He sweet-talked her,” Ms. Irving says contemptuously. “He is a little man. Always trying to make himself big. He'd wear big clothes. Push my daughter around. Being big.”

        The beatings, she says, started about a year into Cassandra and Tony Ringer's five-year relationship. “Things got really violent during the last two years. The last time, Tony threw her down the steps, over a bannister.” She went with her daughter to file the police report.

        “What I really wanted to do was beat him up myself,” she says bitterly.“But we're too civilized to act like that. I wish I could help people understand how horrible, how dangerous this is. And it can happen to anybody.”

        Cassandra Betts, captain of Aiken High School's cheerleading squad, was pretty, bright. “She just breezed through life,” her mother says. “She'd come into a room. That room would light up.”

Family portrait

        A video of a family gathering — aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents — shows Cassandra organizing a picture. “Hey, you sit here. Move your head. We can't see you.” Laughter. But they obediently move where she tells them. A happy day. A close family. The finished picture shows Cassandra in an orange sweater, right in the center, just as her mother promised, lighting up the room.

        Three weeks later, she was dead.

        “I can't undo that. But I am trying to do something positive in my daughter's memory.” She has printed cards, which she distributes to anybody who will take one. “Domestic violence kills the ones you love,” the card reads. “Stop it now.” '

        Web coordinator for Catholic Healthcare Partners, Barbaranne Irving has designed an elaborate Web site ( with links to information about domestic violence. She says she wants to help with the YWCA's programs for battered women, says she'll make speeches, tell Cassandra's story.

        This anguished mother, who lived a nightmare, is trying to give the rest of us a chance to wake up.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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