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Drowning Victim Remembered

Memorial is held for a woman who died at a sorority event last year. Her family believes she was a hazing victim.

September 10, 2003|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

A year after she and a fellow student at Cal State L.A. drowned off Dockweiler State Beach in what her family claims was a sorority pledge-hazing ritual, Kristin High was remembered Tuesday as a mother, a Sunday school teacher and an advocate of civil rights.

"Kristin was a beautiful girl," her mother, Patricia Strong-Fargas, told more than 200 people who gathered at a memorial service at Holy Chapel Baptist Church in Compton, where High taught Sunday school. "I miss her every day of my life."

After her daughter's death, Strong-Fargas formed a nonprofit organization to advocate tough laws against college hazing. She also filed a $100-million lawsuit against Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's oldest black sorority, which she blames for her daughter's death.

"I want politicians to look at this issue, so another mother won't go through what I had to, Strong-Fargas said.

High, 22, a member of the NAACP chapter at Cal State L.A. and mother of a 2-year-old son, and Kenitha Saafir, 24, of Compton, died Sept. 9, 2002.

After weeks of investigation, police detectives and coroner's deputies concluded that the two young women were the victims of accidental drowning during some sort of group exercise by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Police said they could not determine why the two young women had gone into the water that night, but there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

High's mother contends that members of the sorority led Saafir and High into the water tied and blindfolded. Police say three sorority members and two other women believed to be pledges were present when the victims drowned, but there was no evidence that either victim was tied or blindfolded.

Officials of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which is based in Chicago, have said the organization does not have a recognized chapter at Cal State L.A.

However, the attorneys for High's family say she and Saafir were pledging a Los Angeles-wide chapter associated with Alpha Kappa Alpha that draws pledges from Cal State L.A., Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and USC.

Attorney Angela Reddock said her office is still taking depositions from Alpha Kappa Alpha officials and members of the sorority who were present. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in late January, Reddock said.

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