Sunday, November 1, 2009

[Caambodian-American] Wilson High School track athlete killed after football game in Long Beach

Photo: Friends and classmates mourn the death of 16-year-old track athlete Melody Ross. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

October 31, 2009
Los Angeles Times

Friends and family gathered today at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach to mourn the death of a 16-year-old honors student and track athlete who was gunned down as she and her friends were leaving a football game the night before.

Melody Ross, a junior in advanced-placement honors and a pole vaulter on the track team, was randomly hit by gunfire that also injured two young men, police said. It is not known if the shooting was gang-related. No arrests have been made.

Ross was identified by her uncle, Sam Che, who said their family emigrated to Southern California in the mid-1980s from Cambodia. “We escaped the killing fields,” said Che, 36.

Ross was dressed as Supergirl for the homecoming game against Polytechnic High School that was attended by many other students in costume on the day before Halloween. Ross was “an innocent kid” said Mario Morales, the Wilson High football coach.

“It’s very disconcerting. I’m sick to my stomach when something like that happens and you have an innocent kid involved,” Morales said. He said he heard five to seven shots as he was leaving the stadium after his team’s loss to Poly.

[Updated at 1:30 p.m.: A homecoming dance attended by about 200 students was underway on campus when the shots were fired, said Long Beach Unified School District spokesman Chris Eftychiou. The sparsely attended event for the school with 4,500 students was locked down while police and school district security combed the campus for the perpetrators, he said.

Extra security had been brought in for the sold-out game pitting longtime rivals Wilson and Poly, said Eftychiou, adding that police told school officials they had no indications the shootings stemmed from the schools' "healthy rivalry." Poly beat Wilson in the Friday night matchup, 34-15.

Counselors will be at school Monday to talk with Ross' classmates and any other students who feel the need to talk about the incident, said Eftychiou, describing the violence as a rare occurrence even in vicinity of the suburban school.]

Ross' classmates gathered at a pedestrian crossing along Ximeno Avenue near the football stadium exit to leave flowers and light candles by the curb where she was shot. They hugged each other, and some sat against the school fence or on the grass with their heads down, pondering the loss of a friend they described as polite and well-liked. A passerby in a green Toyota truck yelled out: "Police need to do their job!"

Ross, who attended the game with her 17-year-old sister, Emily, a senior at Wilson, died at St. Mary Medical Center about half an hour after the 10 p.m. shooting. At least one bullet struck her in the side, Che said.

The young men, 18 and 20, who were struck suffered non-life-threatening injuries, said Long Beach Police spokeswoman Sgt. Dina Zapalski. Their identities were not released.

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