Brice Cary Dickenson loved to read and write ghost stories. Several times a week, the 21-year-old man, who was physically handicapped, walked to the library to read.
Dickenson left his grandparents' home in Norwalk about 3 p.m. last Wednesday, apparently to return a book. About 90 minutes later his body was found stuffed head-first into a wall trash container in a restroom of the Santa Fe Springs Public Library.
Authorities now think that he may have died as the result of a cruel prank turned tragic. The frail, slight man, who stood 5 feet, 3 inches and weighed about 100 pounds, could have "somehow" offended someone who pushed him into the trash can, Sheriff's Detective Melinda Hearne said Tuesday.
"They probably had no idea they killed him," she added.
Hearne said Dickenson was alive when he was forced into the container, and died of asphyxiation. Detectives, she said, can think of no other explanation of why someone would kill Dickenson, who was widely described as friendly and unoffensive.
Dickenson, clad in a white T-shirt, jeans and gym shoes, still had the little money he left home with--no more than a dollar, according to his brother. His body was bruised, looking as though he had been beaten, Dickenson's father said.
There are no suspects. Sheriff's deputies have circulated posters with Dickenson's picture and are appealing to the public for help. So far, no witnesses have come forth.
The mystery surrounding Dickenson's death jars those who knew him. Friends, teachers and relatives said they found him an inspiration in overcoming hardships. Always smiling, he was known for saying "Hi" to everyone he met, whether he knew them or not. And while his handicaps may have slowed him, friends said, they never dissuaded him from trying.
Hundreds of friends, neighbors and schoolmates turned out for Dickenson's funeral Tuesday in South San Gabriel. His father, John Dickenson, asked the mourners to "take a moment out of your life and say 'Hi' like he always did."
Dickenson placed his son's diary--a chronicle of hope and aspiration, according to those who read it--into the coffin.
"He had a beautiful way of going through life," the elder Dickenson said.
Dickenson had had several physical difficulties throughout his life, including bone disease and numerous birth defects that required corrective surgery, his father said. He had at least 10 operations. He had an IQ of 82, below average, but did not qualify for many special programs, his father said.
A teacher who taught Dickenson word processing said he worked hard to overcome his disabilities.
"He put a lot of effort into everything he did," said Myrna Capsuto, who teaches office administration at La Habra High School. "He wanted to make the most possible out of his life. He always tried to help other people. He just made friends with everybody."
Dickenson was not afraid of facing people with his disabilities, teachers said, recalling that he participated in debate and drama clubs and won a lip-sync contest in front of a large crowd.
Joanne Browne, a psychologist at La Habra High School, where Dickenson graduated in June, said students are "extremely shocked."
"I don't think he ever said a mean word," she said. "He was just nice to everyone."
"I just can't believe anybody would do something like this," said Andrew Maupin, a friend who used to live in the same apartment building. "He wouldn't hurt anybody. I feel more like I lost a brother than a friend."
While Dickenson did not work and supported himself with Social Security disability benefits, Capsuto said he had looked for a job in word processing and was qualified for office work.
But Maupin said Dickenson took his problems in stride. "He didn't even think about being handicapped," he said. "There was nothing that bothered him."
Recently Dickenson had even started going to a gym, neighbor Tracey Walker said, where he rode an exercise bike, lifted weights and swam. "He loved going to the spa," she said.
He also enjoyed writing stories, watching scary movies and listening and dancing to music. Dickenson spent much of his time in his former apartment complex in La Habra, neighbors said, bouncing around to the music of his Walkman radio. "He was always be-bopping around," Walker said.
Dickenson had moved to California with his family more than two years ago from Peoria, Ill. Until he moved in with his grandparents three weeks ago, Dickenson lived in La Habra with his father and stepmother.
Browne said students have flocked to her, asking the same question that so far eludes detectives: "Who could have done that to him?"
Staff writer Andrea Ford contributed to this article.