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Hometown Remembers Slain Journalist

Daniel Pearl: Hundreds gather at his high school to share grief and admiration for the Wall Street Journal reporter.

April 22, 2002|DAVID PIERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two months after his murder was confirmed, Daniel Pearl was memorialized at his former high school for his ordinary upbringing and extraordinary accomplishments.

Family, school friends and a former principal came to share their grief and express their admiration for the slain journalist at a gathering of 300 people Sunday afternoon in a Birmingham High School auditorium in Van Nuys.

The 38-year-old Pearl disappeared Jan. 23 in Karachi while working on a story about Islamic extremists in Pakistan. A videotape showing his murder was obtained by the U.S. Consulate in Karachi on Feb. 21.

Robert Massing described a 12th-grade English class he had with Pearl in which the future Wall Street Journal reporter was frantic over an essay assignment.

"Times like that I wanted to be Danny Pearl more than anything in the world," Massing said. "There was so much depth. He had so much to say."

Massing said Pearl made an idealistic choice to become a journalist. He was driven not by money or fame, Massing said, but by the question, "How can we make the world a better place?"

Pearl grew up in Encino under circumstances similar to those of people who attended Sunday's ceremony. His principal at Lanai Road Elementary School in Encino credits Pearl's success to his public schooling.

"He was one of the many good guys," said Larry Marquardt, a retired principal. "He is gone but not forgotten. His name will live on."

Amy Scholder, another member of Pearl's 1981 high school graduation class, read an excerpt of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's novel "The Little Prince." She said a French teacher of theirs felt the book was perfect for Pearl's memorial because it's a "story of an idealist who left the world too soon."

Pearl's family sat in the front row of the auditorium, listening intently. Pearl's father, Judea, explained to the crowd that communities such as the one before him have helped the family cope. "One whose legacy keeps growing is not exactly dead," he said.

Daniel Pearl's younger sister, Michelle, said he was a role model who was quick to give advice. In a postcard he sent to her before she began high school, he asked her whether she was on a sports team. He had played soccer and violin, she said.

"Are you on a team yet?" he wrote. "You better be. You'll thank me later when you realize how stale the rest of high school is."

Birmingham High ninth-grader Zachary Lopez, who will take his first journalism class next year, said he was glued to the news after Pearl disappeared.

"He's a person I look up to," Zachary said.

Eleventh-grader Meganne Hoisington, who is president of the school's honor society for high school journalists, was shocked by Pearl's death.

"You don't realize writing can be dangerous," she said.

Michael McClish, a math teacher at Birmingham, attended the ceremony with his family. He said he came away with a feeling that Pearl was an "ordinary guy who grew up in the Valley and tried to do something."

The memorial at Birmingham High was delayed several weeks to confirm the attendance of elected officials, said its principal, Doris Lasiter. Another ceremony was held in March at the Skirball Cultural Center for friends and family to mourn Pearl's death.

Among officials at the high school Sunday were state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine.

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