From his childhood in Encino through his college days at Stanford, Daniel Pearl displayed brilliance, humor and compassion, some who knew him said.
"The image that keeps coming to my mind is that he was the most gentle person I had ever met," Richard Moss, 38, said of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter who had been his classmate at Lanai Road Elementary School and Portola Middle School. "That's why it is so hard for me to understand how someone whose character was so gentle could have met such a brutal and nasty fate."
Daniel Gill, 38, met his future best friend on the first day of fourth grade at Lanai Road Elementary. Pearl agreed to join a club Gill started called the Bees, whose members poked schoolmates with wire twist ties. Gill said the club dissolved partly because "Danny didn't like to sting people."
Gill said that Pearl, despite being a top student, was not outwardly competitive. The two were scolded at the end of the school year by their high school trigonometry teacher for not working to their potential, Gill said.
"He called me a slacker, then he said to Danny, 'You, you just did the bare minimum to get an A,' " Gill said.
Pearl did not argue with the teacher's assessment but saw it as an accomplishment. "When Danny heard that, he thought it was the greatest thing. He said, 'Cool,' and walked out. The teacher just shook his head. Danny just wasn't impressed by authority."
Gill, a San Francisco lawyer, said that although he and Pearl were among a group of students who expected to go to college and succeed, Pearl did not talk about career ambitions. When Gill visited Pearl in college, the two were mainly interested in the bawdy, subversive Freak Brothers comic books and finding ways to get beer despite being underage.
When Pearl began work at the Wall Street Journal in Atlanta, Gill said, he realized during a taxi ride to his first interview that he had forgotten to wear a belt. Pearl persuaded the cabdriver to lend him his.
"He was sophisticated, but in an unsophisticated way. He disarmed people," Gill said.
Pearl, 38, was abducted in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Jan. 23 while investigating local ties between alleged "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Pearl's Jewish background compounded the anxiety of his family and friends during his captivity. His parents, Judea and Ruth, immigrated from Israel in the 1950s. But Gill said his classmate seldom discussed his faith. "He was definitely not religious. His family was never highly observant," Gill said.
Local tributes surfaced as news of Pearl's death spread in his hometown. The Los Angeles City Council adjourned Friday in Pearl's memory, and a message of remembrance scrolled across the marquee of Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.
When former Lanai Road Principal Larry Marquardt, 78, of Northridge heard news reports that the kidnapped reporter was from Encino, he was heartbroken to learn that it was Pearl.
"He was such a great student. He was so alert and so well liked," Marquardt said, fighting tears. He recalled that Pearl belonged to a tight-knit group whose members remained friends through high school.
Dave Artinian, 38, of Agoura Hills, who played in the school band with Pearl at Portola Middle School in Encino, remembered Pearl as a competitive musician.
At Birmingham High, Pearl was an academic standout. He was a National Merit Scholar who earned a Bank of America award for excellence in social studies. He was one of five student commencement speakers in 1981.
"Danny was just a good person. No one could say a bad thing about him," said Mike Saunders of Westlake Village, who attended elementary, middle and high school with Pearl. "He wasn't a character out of 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.' "
Still, Marion Lewenstein, a retired Stanford communications professor who taught Pearl, said he stood out even among the university's bright students. "He had a certain flair without being boisterous, loud or aggressive. He had a sly sense of humor."
Pearl's responses to a freshman survey revealed that sense of humor, Lewenstein said. Asked to identify his strengths and weaknesses, Pearl replied, "My biggest problem is that I get lazy (I'm allowed to say that now that I've been accepted, right?). I try to give 100% to what I'm doing. My problem is my attention span doesn't always keep up with me."
However, he was deeply committed to his academic work. He spent months on a project detailing the history of how the White House controls information when the president is seriously ill or wounded.
Lewenstein recalled Pearl's academic interests as unusually broad. A communications major, he nevertheless took graduate-level mathematics courses, including work in artificial intelligence.
Pearl's family remained in seclusion Friday. The New Orleans French Quarter-style home with an intricate ironwork balcony had sheets of white paper taped over the windows and glass doors.
A family spokesman made a brief statement to reporters Thursday saying, "Danny was a walking sunshine of truth, humor, friendship and compassion. We grieve with the many who have known him in his life and we weep for a world that must reckon with his death."
A spokesman for the Wall Street Journal said a fund has been set up for the family and their charities: Daniel Pearl Family Foundation, care of the Wall Street Journal, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08543.
Times staff writers Massie Ritsch and Liz Kay contributed to this report.