Tony Altobelli remembers receiving the text message one year ago.
The sports information director at Orange Coast College looked at his phone and saw a message from the school’s women’s basketball coach.
There had been reports of a helicopter crash that morning in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. It appeared that Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was onboard.
“So, I texted her and said, ‘Did you hear anything about Kobe?’ Her response was, ‘Where is your brother?’
“I completely stopped.”
Tony Altobelli’s 56-year-old brother John, a beloved baseball coach at Orange County Community College known as Coach Alto, his wife Keri and 14-year-old daughter Alyssa were all on the helicopter, which was on it way to a girls basketball tournament.
It was a heartbreaking and surreal moment. As the school’s sports information director, Tony Altobelli was now charged with relaying the tragic news of their deaths. That included a touching tribute delivered as a thank-you letter to his brother.
The Altobellis had become friends of the Bryants through the Mamba Academy, where their daughters were basketball teammates.
John Altobelli coached baseball for 27 years at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. The Pirates won four state titles and more than 700 games under Altobelli, who was honored with a moment of silence before the team's season opener just days after the crash.
In the 12 months that have followed, Altobelli said he has come to understand just how much his brother meant to the community. Those memories included those shared at an Angel Stadium memorial for the Altobellis.
“The stories that came out after John passed away, I was floored,” Altobelli said. “And, I worked with the guy. I couldn’t believe how many people he touched, and how many people he impacted.”
Orange Coast College conducted a virtual memorial Tuesday for the Altobelli family members.
Also killed in the crash were Bryant friends Christina Mauser, who helped coach the girls' team, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, and the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan,