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'That's What Friends Are For' : 1,000 Join in Tearful Anthem to Slain Teen

September 27, 1987|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

The familiar words and melody of "That's What Friends Are For" floated over the packed crowd at Chatsworth United Methodist Church Saturday. But the friendship anthem's normally joyful theme sounded sad and muted.

The singers, students from Lawrence Junior High School, were dedicating the song to their schoolmate, Wendy Kimiko Masuhara. It was their farewell hymn.

The teen-agers were among more than 1,000 friends, relatives and neighbors attending a funeral for Masuhara, 14, who was killed Sept. 19 after she and a friend were abducted from their Chatsworth neighborhood, taken to a remote canyon nearby and shot in their heads.

The mourners, who spilled out of the church into the surrounding grounds, included numerous students from Masuhara's junior high, where she was a straight-A student, and from her elementary school, Germaine Street School.

Also there were the parents of Masuhara's 13-year-old companion, who survived the attack and gave police a description of her assailant that led to the arrest of Roland Norman Comtois, 57, who was charged last week with murder and numerous unlawful sex acts in the abduction and kidnaping.

Condition Improves

Masuhara's friend was listed in serious but improved condition at an undisclosed hospital. Her identity is being withheld by police out of concern for her safety,

Many of the youngsters who had sung with Masuhara in the school choir wept as they sang the lyrics of devotion and loyalty made famous by entertainer Dionne Warwick. Some put their arms around each other. A few stared silently at the floor or at the ceiling.

Rev. Harry H. Murakami of West Valley United Methodist Church in Sepulveda, said he was grateful that Masuhara's companion "survived this horrible ordeal" and chastised the girls' assailants for "their neurotic, demented need to do what they did."

Masuhara was memorialized by classmates and teachers as a bright, shy but friendly girl who loved school and was becoming adept at writing in script. A sample of this new talent--her name--appeared on the cover of the pink funeral program.

Jan Nakamura, 21, a cousin of Masuhara, spoke warmly of her emerging adolescence. Nakamura clenched her fists, gripped the lectern and wiped tears from her face as she told family members in front of the church how much they had meant to Masuhara.

'Beautiful, Happy Teen'

"I will always remember how she grew up overnight from my baby cousin who I used to play Barbie dolls with to a beautiful, happy, bouncing teen," Nakamura said.

Another classmate read a letter he wrote to Masuhara's companion, telling her to remember the good times that she and Masuhara shared.

Nieves Gerber, Masuhara's Spanish teacher, described her as "very respectful, patient with others, kind and tender. Her smile will be with us for the rest of our lives."

A private burial service was held later.

Comtois was listed in serious condition at County-USC Medical Center Saturday. A former convict with a long criminal record, he was shot Tuesday by police while trying to evade capture.

Police were still looking for Comtois' alleged accomplice, Marsha Lynn Erickson, 33, who officials said played a role in luring the teen-agers into the kidnaping and murder.

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