Tony Altobelli is recalling the life-changing text message he received on Jan. 26, 2020, one year later.
In an interview with NBC Los Angeles, Tony remembers texting the Orange Coast College women's basketball coach about the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others on that day — and the moment he realized his brother John Altobelli and his wife and daughter were also onboard.
"I texted her and said, 'Did you hear anything about Kobe?' Her response was, 'Where is your brother?' I completely stopped," said Tony.
Tony, who is Orange Coast College's sports information director, told NBC Los Angeles that he was later "floored" to hear "the stories that came out" about John, who had been the school's baseball coach for 27 years, after his death.
"And, I worked with the guy," he continued of John, who was 56 when he died. "I couldn't believe how many people he touched, and how many people he impacted."
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Helicopter Crash Victims John Altobelli, Wife and Daughter Were "First Family" of Orange Coast College
Tony, the youngest of seven children, recently told the Los Angeles Times that he has been "talking about" John "every day," and is "grateful" he "got thrown in front of the cameras on day one … because it has allowed me to communicate my feelings to everybody, and it hasn't festered. It hasn't stayed in my soul or my system to the point where it maybe paralyzes people. It's helped me drain the abscess out of my heart."
The younger Altobelli told the Times that he misses "the banter of my brother, the random text with the funny quote, the goofy meme, talking about the Cubs, our favorite team," as well as just "having that comfort of him being there."
"John loved small ball — he loved hit-and-runs, sacrifice bunts, getting guys over and getting them in," Tony said. "He loved great defense. He hated giving away runs, errors and walks. He really pounded the fundamentals. It was boring to watch sometimes, but you know what? It worked."
As for Keri, Tony described his sister-in-law "as the leader of her family" in an interview with Los Angeles outlet FOX 11 published last week, while "John was the leader for his baseball team."
"[Keri] would do anything for her kids and for her family. I'll always think of Alyssa as the cute little niece that had the great smile," he added.
John, Keri, 46, and their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was a basketball teammate of Gianna's, were among the nine victims of the crash that occurred in Calabasas, California, last January. The couple are survived by their daughter Alexis and John's son J.J.
"[They were] the First Family of OCC," Orange Coast College's acting head baseball coach Nate Johnson previously told the Orange County Register. "All three of [John's] kids grew up here."
"I'm numb right now, I'm numb, I'm broken, I'm going to miss him terribly," Tony told PEOPLE after the death of his brother, sister-in-law and niece. "He was my brother, he was my idol growing up, also my idol as an adult."
"You want to live how my brother did, he was straight and narrow, he worked hard and he earned the respect of everybody who ever knew him and he left a legacy that will go way beyond his time spent in Orange Coast," Tony continued. "I don't know how you can not want to live a life like that."
Tony and Orange Coast College held a memorial tribute on YouTube for John and his family on Tuesday.
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