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1,000 gather in tribute to slain Oxnard teen

A march organized by students focuses on tolerance in the wake of the fatal shooting of an openly gay boy.

February 17, 2008|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

The Goths in their black T-shirts were there. So were the punks with fluorescent hair and multiple piercings.

There were even a few adolescent boys carrying skateboards among the nearly 1,000 Oxnard youth and other supporters who turned out Saturday for a hastily organized peace march to pay tribute to Lawrence King, 15, the Oxnard student shot to death in a classroom last week.

"Larry, Larry, Larry!" the crowd chanted before marchers clasped hands in a moment of silence for the fallen student.

There were no bullhorns, no speeches and no politicians. Just a mass of mostly adolescents wearing bright clothing, carrying signs and singing John Lennon's "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance."

The size of the turnout surprised police, school officials and even the two Hueneme High School sophomores who put the event together just three days ago, spreading the word with fliers, cellphone calls and MySpace bulletins.

"We were expecting maybe 100 or 200 people," said Courtney LaForest, 16, as she gazed at a broad "peace circle" formed by march participants at Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard. "This is incredible."

Courtney said the turnout reflected a community's anguish over a senseless shooting that has destroyed the lives of two young men. It was also a public plea for tolerance on school campuses for those who are different, she said.

"I didn't know Larry. A lot of people here didn't know him," she said. "We are saying you don't need to accept people who are gay, but you should tolerate them."

King, an eighth-grader at E.O. Green Junior High School in south Oxnard, had revealed he was gay this school year. In recent weeks, he had begun accessorizing his school uniform with feminine items and was often teased by other students, several of his classmates said.

"What he did was really brave -- to wear makeup and high-heeled boots," said Erin Mings, 12, who hung out with King at the school. "Every corner he turned around, people were saying, 'Oh, my god, he's wearing makeup today.' "

Erin said King was an outgoing and funny boy who stood his ground.

"When people came up and started punking him, he just stood up for himself," Erin said.

Jeremiah, another student and friend of the victim, said King had recently told the 14-year-old boy who is alleged to have shot him that he had a crush on him.

"I see no point in shooting someone for telling them that you like them," said Jeremiah, who didn't want to give his last name.

Brandon McInerney, 14, who attended E.O. Green with King, has been charged with premeditated murder and will be tried as an adult. He is being held in Ventura County Juvenile Hall in lieu of $770,000 bail. McInerney could face 50 years to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors added a hate crime allegation that could bring an additional one to three years.

Saturday's march began at Carty Park, adjacent to the junior high school where the shooting took place Tuesday. Students busily scribbled signs on poster boards, with such messages as "RIP Larry King," "Gay Pride" and "Support Love and Tolerance."

Melissa Crutcher, 16, who helped organize the march, said King's slaying infuriated her. Sporting pink-tinged hair, hot pink pants and multiple ear piercings, Melissa said she knew what it was like to get picked on for looking different.

"I know I stick out myself," she said. "And it's just appalling that just for being himself he got shot."

Jerry Dannenberg, superintendent of the Hueneme School District, of which E.O. Green is a part, joined the marchers. He had been told that an event was being planned by students and sent word that the school should support it, Dannenberg said.

"We forget the goodness that is in most of our kids," Dannenberg said. "This tremendous turnout by kids is an expression of their voices, their opinions."

Connor Sipes, 13, showed up with two of his buddies. They attend a different middle school, Connor said, but learned about the march through a posting on MySpace.

Connor wore a headband and a gold peace sign around his neck as the three boys walked the two miles from the school to the city park. He participated because what happened to King "wasn't right," he said. "It will be a better future if we are more tolerant."

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catherine.saillant@ latimes.com

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