A crowd of more than 100, including family and friends of Kenneth L. Bettis, several state officials and more than two dozen correctional officers, gathered at Coastal Alabama Community College’s Atmore campus Monday (October 16) for the dedication of a portion of Alabama Highway 21 in honor of the former correctional officer, who died exactly 13 months prior to the ceremony.
Bettis, who worked for seven years as a CO at William C. Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, died September 16, 2016, just over two weeks after he was stabbed by an inmate who became enraged when Bettis refused to let him have an extra tray of food.
Five members of the slain prison employee’s family were on hand for the solemn and emotional event, during which the portion of Alabama 21 from Interstate 65 to Smithfield Road was formally designated Alabama Correctional Officer Kenneth L. Bettis Memorial Highway.
“It’s a good honor for him, but the way it had to come about, I would rather it had been another way,” Danny McQuieter said of the memorialization of a portion of the highway his son traveled to and from work. “I’m just glad they thought enough of him to do this. As long as this sign can be seen, he won’t be forgotten.”
The posthumous honoree’s mother, Lola Bettis, agreed.
“It is an honor,” she said. “My son won’t know anything about it, but I do. This will give the family some closure.”
Also attending were Bettis’ stepmother, Laura McQuieter; his sister, Michelle Bettis, and his mother-in-law, Melvine Mose, each of whom wiped away tears as the dedication progressed.
State Rep. Alan Baker, who introduced the highway-naming resolution in the state House, pointed out that the push to designate the highway section in memory of Bettis came from the officer’s former co-workers at Holman, who also spearheaded the fundraising for the signage.
“The staff at Holman Prison reached out to me with their desire for their fallen friend to be remembered and honored …,” said Baker, who later read the resolution aloud. “It was a most worthy request, because this is where Officer Bettis traveled to and from his work at Holman. This sign will serve as a visual and continuous remembrance in honor of the life of Officer Bettis.”
State Senator Greg Albritton echoed those sentiments moments later.
“It speaks highly of Officer Bettis to have his co-workers push to have this recognition done,” Albritton said. “This is to recognize not only Officer Bettis, but those principles he stood for, that he lived for, that he was taught, and that he died for.”
Willie Harris, a 20-year veteran correctional officer, compared Bettis to David in the Biblical story told in II Samuel. He related that, “no matter what went on inside that prison, Bettis came back with the same attitude, day in and day out.” Harris added that he “can hear Bettis’ voice as I pass by that sign, reminding me to be watchful and be mindful.”
Corrections Commissioner Jefferson Dunn pointed out that Bettis had also been memorialized through the addition of his name to the Alabama Law Enforcement Memorial in Anniston and the National Law Enforcement Memorial in the nation’s capital, along with special recognition given him during a Correctional Peace Officers Foundation memorial service in San Francisco.
“Today’s memorial dedication is most fitting,” Dunn said. “It’s a tribute to Officer Bettis in a profound way for our state to ensure that his life and his legacy are remembered forever.”
Dunn’s comments were followed by a moment of silence, the singing of “Amazing Grace” by De’Marcous Moton, Baker’s presentation of the resolution and the unveiling of the memorial highway sign.
Tony Harris of Alabama Department of Transportation acted as the emcee of the event, and Eric Evans, assistant warden at Ventress CI in Clayton, followed the posting of colors by the Alabama Department of Corrections Honor Guard with an energetic rendering of the National Anthem.