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"Behind the Scenes" The night of the Shooting of Rola!
By Sue TL Fox
April 8, 2011


(APR 8) On April 1, 2011, in Berlin, Germany, Photojournalist Uwe Betker covered the boxing event that had the tragic shooting of female boxer World Champion Rola El Halabi.  She was just about to go into the ring to fight for an IBF championship bout, when her stepfather shot her in the dressing room.  I conducted a One on One interview with Uwe Betker, to get a "Behind the Scenes" look at what occurred this night. 

TL Fox:  Uwe, before the boxing event took place on 04/01/11, did you go to any of the pre-fight coverage as the press conference or the weigh-in? If, so had you seen Rola El-Halabi and or her alleged offender, the stepfather before the fight?

U. Betker: I didn’t make the pre-fight coverage, simply, because I live far away from Berlin. There was only a few pre-fight coverages of this show in the media. The main event of the show (an IBF middleweight eliminator with Sam Soliman and Benjamin Simon) was cancelled because of an injury (of Simon).

TL Fox: As you covered the two women's bouts on the card that night, where Rola was shot by her stepfather-- did you see her at anytime the night of the fight with her body guards beforehand?

U. Betker:  I saw her quite large entourage wearing all the same black team members' t-shirt.   I’m sure, I saw Rola El-Halabi through the window though, in her locker room, when I came to the hall. This hall is situated in Berlin Karlshorst. Originally it is the ticket hall of a trotting track; you can bet there on horses. The curtain was not completely closed. I didn't see her in the hall, during the show. This surprised me a little bit, because she had to make one of the last two fights of the show. Being at the end of the card other fighters came out and sat somewhere near the locker rooms to watch some fights.  The co-promoter Eva Rolle told me later, that she was surprised about Rola coming to the show with two personal bodyguards.

TL Fox: When Rola was shot, just prior to fighting her opponent, how did you learn that there was a shooting that had taken place----OR at the time was it a "hush-hush" situation?

U. Betker: I sat ringside, opposite of the locker rooms. Ozlem Sahin was celebrating her victory and many things happened nearly the same time. First I heard the shrilly screams of a woman, but I couldn’t understand the words and I couldn’t locate the place where it came from. Then two members of the El-Halabi team caught my attention: One shouted something down from the gallery to his colleague and he pointed with his arm towards the locker rooms. The only thing I heard was the name Rola. Then both rushed down there. 

At the very same moment turmoil started on the opposite side of the ring. I first thought there were brawls. The typical wholes in the crowd were visible. Then spectators started to flee in my direction that means towards the exit. One of the first escapees cried: “Somebody shot!” Nearly at the same time the ring announcer made the announcement that everybody has to leave the venue.

TL Fox: When you were covering the other fights that night, and Rola was set to come out, did anyone, including yourself hear the gunshots? If so, was there any panic situations taking place within the arena?

U. Betker: It still surprises me, that I didn’t hear any gunshots. The hall is not very large, but I heard nothing. There wasn't real panic neither. The spectators quickly left but they did not rush.

TL Fox: Did you learn about the details as to where Rola had been shot or did you learn more about the shooting from what the local media was reporting?

U. Betker: I didn’t really leave the venue. Next to the exit of this hall is a restaurant which I entered. This restaurant is only separated with glass doors from the hall. Nearly all officials and some fighters and corner men met there. It became the meeting point for - let me call it – the inner circle of the boxing show.

Fighters, corner men, the promoter Eva Rolle, the Arena spokesman Malte Muller-Michaelis and many others came in. Nearly every minute we learned some new information. Everybody who came in brought some new details. Some fighters were still in the locker room area speaking by cell phone with friends in the restaurant. Even the small brother of Rola El-Halabi, and I strongly believe he is a native son of Roy El-Halabi, the stepfather of Rola, was in this restaurant. He tried very hard not to burst into tears but stay brave.

So I learned quite a lot about the shooting.  I am sure that some of the initial news was a little exaggerated but I was informed well. What I heard there was that Rola was shot several times and that two of her security men were wounded too.

TL Fox: What was the reaction of the crowd upon learning that Rola would not be fighting that night?

There was no specific reaction. Rola's fight was not the main event. The crowd was lucky just to escape. Leaving the hall, I think, everybody knew that the show was over and that something awful had happened.

TL Fox: Did you see a lot of police or medical personnel at the event after the incident happen, or was that concealed from the public when the incident took place?

U. Betker: I was surprised to see so many policemen coming very quickly, first ordinary policemen (in green uniforms) and shortly afterwards those special units (in black with helmets and automatic rifles). Two ambulance vehicles already stood by the locker rooms. It was all public.

TL Fox: Have there been a lot of media attention as of this time about Rola, and if so, have they given some solid updates as to her present condition?

U. Betker: Media did not report very much about the shooting and about Rola. What I know is that until Thursday, Rola was treated in the intensive care unit in a hospital in Berlin. This Friday she will be transferred to a hospital in her hometown Ulm. They made three surgeries: her right hand, one knee and both feet. At the moment nobody knows if Rola will be able to box again.

TL Fox: Were you ever aware of the problems with the stepfather, Roy El-Halabi prior to this shooting?

Roy El-Halabi was at the beginning a strong supporter of Rola. He was the manager and the financier of her career. To my knowledge, he brought her into the shows and he financed his own shows. He paid the opponents and so on.

But on the other hand he was also always part of the problem that Rola didn’t get a promotional contract. One promoter once told me, that Roy is the reason why nobody wanted to give Rola a contract. I was told that Roy always made too much pressure.

Recently Rola announced that Roy is not her manager any more. Roy’s reaction was to tell the press, that he had the duty to keep Rola from boxing. He affirmed Rola’s health was not good enough to keep on fighting. Roy told stories about Rola breaking down several times during her training sessions. Rola always contradicted all his statements.

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