Raw emotions and a call for vengeance have been etched in red graffiti on the side of a Highland Park grocery store where a teenage girl was shot to death last week. But on Friday at a funeral Mass, the 17-year-old's parish priest asked for understanding and prayer, not only for Brenda Hughes, but also for the shopkeeper accused of her slaying.
"This man did a terrible thing, but it is for God to deal with, not for us," said Msgr. Alfred Hernandez, at the Mass attended by more than 500 people. "A terrible thing happened to Brenda, but no matter what we do, it cannot be undone.
"For this man who took Brenda's life, the remorse is going to be great," Hernandez said. "You have to pray for Brenda, but you have to pray for him too."
Hughes died Nov. 21 when the owner of the grocery, Korea Jo Won Kim, allegedly fired into a car in which she had been riding with several friends. Kim had confronted some boys from the car who he believed had tried to steal a can of beer. Kim has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and four counts of attempted murder.
Hernandez said after the hourlong service that the family of the former Franklin High School cheerleader had asked him to deliver words of compassion after anger and talk of reprisals had flared in the middle-class community near downtown Los Angeles. "They don't want violence," Hernandez said. "The family doesn't want anything like that."
On Thursday, dozens of votive candles burned in front of the barred front door of the tiny grocery on Avenue 56. Much of the faded green paint on the building had been covered in scrawled messages.
Many read like high school yearbook missives. "I will never forget you" and "Your smile was so bright, it made competition for the sun," said the entries in ballpoint pen and felt-tip marker. Many said simply, "I love you, Brenda. Rest in peace."
But others expressed anger and frustration at the loss of a friend over an incident seemingly so trivial. In red spray paint: "Death to those who murder for $." In green ink: "Mr. Kim--What on God's earth gave you the thought that a single item in this poor store was worth more than the life of a girl, an angel, a queen, a girlfriend, a friend, a customer, a stranger." And in more red paint over the doorway: "Murderer."
Only one of the messages on the makeshift bulletin board seemed to offer an alternative view of the shooting. It was a black-and-white broadside and it read: "Punishment for shoplifting 'friends'!"
A few blocks away from the store, at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Hughes' family led a tearful procession to the wooden altar where Brenda and her twin sisters had received their first Communion and where they had attended services with their parents.
Her mother, Maria, was particularly staggered by the tragedy, which occurred while she was in El Salvador for the burial of her own mother. Other family members said they were too overcome to speak.
A procession of 201 cars drove from the church to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, where Hughes was buried. Several of her friends concurred with Hernandez's message of prayer. "There is a lot of anger, sure, but that is just not the way Brenda was. She wouldn't want anything to happen," said Carlos Corona, 18, a Franklin High graduate and friend.
Corona and others instead preferred to recall images of their friend. They described a girl who spoke her mind and loved a good time, particularly with a group of pals who called themselves "The Fantasy Dream Crew."
Jimmy Calderon remembered celebrating Hughes' birthday at her house just two weeks before she died. Hughes had been working extra hours at a photo studio in a Pasadena mall, earning money so she could treat herself and her friends to a concert. "She was up," said Calderon, "really excited."
Several teachers and staff members from Franklin High attended the services. Robert Ramirez, who taught Hughes in junior high before both moved to the high school, described her as a free spirit and a catalyst. "I could always count on her to liven up a class," Ramirez said. "You could see something, a life in her eyes."
Bruce Caukin, a social studies teacher, had accompanied Hughes and her teammates to a cheerleading competition last year. "You just put so much hope in these kids and many of them don't make it," Caukin said. "But she was one who would have. It is just so hard, so frustrating to see this happen."
Rocio Villanueva, who works in the cafeteria at Franklin and whose siblings attend school there, hugged many of the weeping students but expressed hopes that all their strong feelings can be harnessed--to stop gun violence, to change gun registration laws, to do something.
"No one has to die like this. No one," Villanueva said. "Instead of writing on the front of the store, I have tried to tell the kids it's time for us to do something together. Write on a piece of paper, talk to the principal or do something constructive, so some good comes out of all this."