The five suspects in the Stuart Tay murder case all attend Sunny Hills High School. Students said the five did not hang out together at the Fullerton campus. "They were all in their little separate crowds," one student said. "It was like someone picked one out of each crowd and put them together." Like many of the friends, relatives and acquaintances interviewed for this story, the student spoke only on the condition that she not be identified.
Robert Chan, 18
Other parents talked about Robert Chan as someone their children should emulate.
The 5-foot-6, 160-pound senior is in the International Baccalaureate program, a challenging honors regimen at Sunny Hills High. He is a member of the school's honors society and the academic decathlon team. He has calculus, physics and honors English among his courses. Like Stuart Tay did, he wants to attend Princeton University.
"My mom used to talk about how great he was," said a former classmate, now a student at Harvard University.
In an application for a contest last year, Chan listed his career ambitions as "doctor, businessman, body-builder, actor."
The son of an engineer father and a homemaker mother, he lives in a sprawling house on a tree-lined cul de sac in the affluent Sunny Hills neighborhood of Fullerton. Sometimes he plays soccer in the street with other teen-agers. He has traveled some, including a trip last year to Singapore. He is a native of Taiwan, and still holds a passport from the island.
But authorities and classmates alleged that there is another side to Chan.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lew Rosenblum said Chan appeared to be the motivating force in Tay's slaying and in the planned robbery of an Anaheim computer salesman.
Students at Sunny Hills said Chan had begun hanging out with gang members toward the end of his junior year and often claimed to be a member of Wah Ching, a large Chinese gang. Orange police on Wednesday said they were investigating whether he had gang ties.
Fullerton Police Lt. Jeff Roop, who heads the city's gang detail, said Chan was a suspect in the beating of a youth close to his home after accusing him of "bad-mouthing" the Wah Ching gang. Chan was not arrested or charged by the district attorney's office because the victim did not want to press charges, police said.
Wah Ching, a national gang centered primarily in Los Angeles and San Francisco, is involved in crimes ranging from homicide to extortion to corporate crimes, said Detective William Howell, who investigates Asian gang crimes for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Kirn Young Kim, 16
In the words of one classmate at Sunny Hills High, Kirn Young Kim is "kind of a nerd."
Kim, a junior, loved computers, and loved computer games even more. He is the sergeant-at-arms of Sunny Hills' Key Club, a school-service organization. Over Thanksgiving, he helped the Boy Scouts pack food for the needy. He founded the school's Taekwondo Club and was its first president. He is said to prefer the philosophical side of the Korean martial art to its physical aspect.
Like Stuart Tay's, Kim's father is a physician. The family lives in a two-story house, next to a golf course, in the upscale Islands section of Fullerton.
His parents watched Kim closely, said a relative who declined to be identified.
"He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke and he comes home on time," the relative said.
Kim wanted to be well-liked, said an acquaintance who would give her name only as Jennifer. He wanted to be with the popular crowd, she said.
"I'm surprised that Kirn, if he's involved, would be involved in something like this," said another classmate who didn't want to be named. "He's not one of those quiet, rebellious guys. He was always very active in class. He's a friendly guy."
Authorities said Kim served as the lookout while Tay was beaten and buried.
Kim's aunt, Kris Lee, who attended the arraignment Wednesday with his parents, described him as a "very, very nice kid" and "very reputable."
"It was something where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "All teen-agers are exposed to that. We watch them 24 hours a day, and stuff still happens. He is a victim. I think he was a victim too."
Charles Choe, 17
For the past few years, Charles Choe volunteered his time at the Fullerton YMCA's child care program.
A couple of times a week, he would help supervise the children's games and hand out crafts materials. He would spin stories for the children and take them on walks. "For the most part, he's a very pleasant gentleman," said administrative assistant Arrilla Minton. "He works well with children."
Minton recalled that Choe, a senior at Sunny Hills, is very interested in computers. "He was very smart with them," she said.
Minton's descriptions of Choe--likable and outgoing--fit those used by his classmates.
"He seems like a clean-cut kid," one student said. "And happy."
Choe ran with the popular crowd, another student said.