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Classmates Grieve : 3 Arrested in Slaying of Girl in L.A.

June 10, 1986|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

Police have arrested three teen-agers in the killing of 16 year-old Suzanne Mohr Coleman of Santa Ana, who was shot to death early Sunday morning outside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

One suspect, Carlos Chavez, 18, is believed by police to have shot Coleman with a rifle from the roof of a building near where she and her date, Christopher Barth, 18, of Fountain Valley, were robbed after attending a motorcycle race at the Coliseum.

The other two suspects are juveniles, a boy, 14, and a girl, 16.

"I still have not determined what the motive was for the shooting," said Los Angeles Police Detective Verne King, who called the killing a "tragedy."

An autopsy was to have been performed Monday, and King said that his office would be presenting the results of their investigation to the district attorney's office today.

Arrangements Incomplete

Barth was home Monday but "not doing too well," according to a family member who asked not to be identified. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

At Fountain Valley High School, the flag was at half-staff Monday and Principal Michael Kasler gave details of the killing over the public address system. He asked for a few moments of silence and said information about Miss Coleman's funeral would be available through the school's activities office.

"It's one of those tragic things where you don't know how to respond," Kasler said.

"A lot of people were crying about it," said Andi Young, a junior. "They were really shocked."

Students "couldn't believe it was their friend," added Kami Bigler, a freshman.

"There were three different stories going around," said Melissa Handley, also a junior, about how the slaying took place.

Miss Coleman and Christopher Barth, high school sweethearts, attended the Super Bowl of Motocross Saturday night, but found the Coliseum lots full and had to park on a nearby street.

Searched for Car

Leaving the Coliseum after midnight, Barth said later, the couple were unable to recall where they had parked the car. For two hours, they searched the area around Exposition Park, near downtown Los Angeles, aided by a Coliseum parking lot attendant, Robert Burgos, 25, who lives nearby.

Just as they located the car, the three were approached by a woman and a man, who had a knife. The pair took Miss Coleman's purse and fled on foot, according to King.

After phoning the police from a nearby doughnut shop and waiting briefly, Barth said, Burgos went into an alley to try to retrieve the stolen purse. In the alley, Burgos began arguing with a man on a rooftop, whom Barth said he recognized as the man who robbed them.

When the man fired at Burgos, Barth said, he and Miss Coleman turned and started running out of the alley. A second shot hit Miss Coleman in the head. She was taken to the emergency room at California Hospital Medical Center where she died three hours later.

Police recovered the rifle at the scene.

King said that while the robbery occurred because "these two young people were so unfamiliar with this area," the reason for the shooting was baffling.

"It was not their intention to chase down an armed suspect," he explained.

Lee Huff, the school's psychologist, followed Miss Coleman's class schedule throughout the day, talking to students in each class the junior would have attended.

"There was a lot of obvious feeling of loss and despair," Huff said, "a lot of tears."

The reaction was strongest, Huff said, in those classes that involved discussion and working in small groups. "We talked about the phases of grieving," he said, as well as the "senselessness" of the shooting.

Not Street-Wise

There was also talk about how little "urban street-wise knowledge" the average student at Fountain Valley has and what impact that might have had on Miss Coleman and Barth. At the same time, Huff said, "I don't think any of the students were capable of a level of empathy equaling the fear and anxiety those two were experiencing" during the attack.

Miss Coleman's death was discussed in other classes, as well as at lunch.

In her English class, Melissa said, "we got onto the topic of random violence." And Andi said, "It was hard to talk about it because she's the same age as we are."

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