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Tearful Farewell to a Spirited Teen

Friends and family mourn Rachel Parker, who fell into cardiac arrest Friday outside a nightclub. An autopsy has been inconclusive.

August 13, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Friends and family members gathered Tuesday in San Clemente to mourn a 14-year-old who was remembered as a vivacious girl who loved to jazz and tap dance and was beginning to show her independence.

About 500 mourners packed the Pro-Cathedral Church of St. Michael where Rachel Parker had attended school since kindergarten, was a well-liked student and helped in the nursery.

"We're all numb, in shock," said Phillip Johnson, a family spokesman and Rachel's former teacher. "The viewing gave us some closure, but it's very tragic."

Rachel fell into cardiac arrest Friday outside Kokomo's nightclub in Irvine, police said.

She attended a party with three friends at a home in Rancho Santa Margarita, where alcohol may have been served, before going to the MacArthur Boulevard club, which does not serve alcohol, police said. Authorities are investigating whether alcohol was a factor in her death.

An autopsy last week was inconclusive. Results from toxicology tests could take as long as six weeks, Orange County coroner's officials said.

Johnson said Rachel was a healthy teen but, as a toddler, did suffer from severe dehydration that required injections to her head.

Friends said Rachel did not drink alcohol and did not fall prey to peer pressure easily.

Several weeks ago, Kristina Brown, 16, of San Clemente said she organized a graduation party for a mutual friend and invited Rachel, who politely declined.

"She asked what was going to be at the party, and I told her who was coming and that there'd be alcohol too," said Kristina, who was in dance class with Rachel last year.

"But she said, 'I really want to go, but I just don't want to be around the alcohol.' "

Rachel was born in Los Angeles and moved to San Clemente when she was a toddler. She attended kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Michael, where she was named a student of the month last year.

"She portrayed our school motto: honesty, courtesy and loyalty," said Bishop Douglas Kessler.

She attended San Clemente High School as a freshman but returned to St. Michael to finish independent study this year.

At 14, she had traveled much of the world with her mother, Larstella "Star" Parker, a civil rights activist and author. A photo collage at the church entrance included pictures of her smiling in Hollywood, at the Taj Mahal and in New York, along with some of her riding a pink bike, holding a small alligator and clutching a Bible in a school picture.

Friends, holding flowers and wiping away tears, said they were still in disbelief.

"She was so young. It's crazy," said Christi Carney, 16, of San Clemente, who met Rachel at a women's retreat several years ago.

Rachel's father, Peter, of Costa Mesa, said he woke up Tuesday and looked through pictures of her, then made copies to distribute to her friends.

"If Jesus Christ lives on, so does Rachel," he told the crowd.

After the 1 1/2-hour Mass, the bell atop the church rang eight times as family and friends surrounded the wooden casket.

"Eight is the number of completion for God," Rachel's father said. "She was born in 1988 and she went home on the eighth day [of August]."

Rachel's body will be flown to South Carolina, where she will be buried in a family cemetery.

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