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500 memorialize teenager

Lawrence 'Larry' King of Oxnard is recalled as a sensitive child who loved insects and liked to draw and paint.

February 23, 2008|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

At a memorial attended by more than 500 people in Port Hueneme, Lawrence "Larry" King was remembered Friday as a sensitive child who liked to draw, paint and crochet.

One Christmas, he helped his mother crochet hundreds of scarves so that U.S. troops in Afghanistan wouldn't be without a holiday gift, said the Rev. Dan Birchfield.

King also liked hunting down crayfish and had such a beautiful singing voice that he had been tapped to open his younger brother's Little League season with his rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner."

But most of all, he loved insects, Birchfield told those who came to pay tribute to King, 15, who was shot to death, allegedly by a classmate, Feb. 12 at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard. He wanted to become an entomologist and was learning the scientific names of the bugs he carefully carried out of the family home, Birchfield said.

One day, his mother found a big, ugly potato bug and asked King to remove it. He did so enthusiastically, adding a gentle reminder on the correct name of the insect, Birchfield told the packed sanctuary.

"He'd say: 'It's a Jerusalem cricket,' " Birchfield said.

It was a light moment in an otherwise somber hourlong reflection on King's life as a boy growing up in and around Oxnard. It was also a chance for his family, seated in a front row of Westminster Presbyterian Church, to offer a fuller portrait of the boy.

King came to the public's attention in the days after the classroom killing when it was revealed that suspect Brandon McInerney, 14, allegedly had targeted him after a falling out between the two about King's sexual orientation.

Officials have not yet revealed a motive in the shooting. But prosecutors have filed a murder charge against McInerney with the added allegation of a hate crime.

Students at E.O. Green said the two had been feuding in the days before the killing, reportedly because King revealed that he had a crush on McInerney.

King had been the subject of taunting at the school after he told friends that he was gay and began wearing feminine accessories with his school uniform, student witnesses said.

McInerney is being held in Juvenile Hall on $770,000 bail but will be tried as an adult, prosecutors said. He has not entered a plea.

At Friday's memorial, Birchfield made no reference to the events leading to King's killing, other than asking the crowd to pray for a world where there is no "verbal discrimination of any kind."

The victim's parents, Greg and Dawn King, didn't speak at the memorial and have declined to discuss their son's life in any detail. King in recent months had been in foster care at Casa Pacifica, a children's shelter in Camarillo. The family declined to comment on what led to his placement in the county's dependency court system.

The only other speaker besides Birchfield was Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden, who urged the Oxnard community to see King's death as an opportunity for change.

"Next time you see someone on campus or on the street who needs help, it can be you to step up," Holden said. "Be a friend."

King's parents told Birchfield that they wanted the memorial at his church because their son loved the way the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary looked illuminated at night. The family did not belong to the church.

King was also a gardener and planted a passion fruit vine in the family's backyard so that it would attract butterflies, Birchfield said. Butterflies were his favorite insect, he said.

On Feb. 13, the day King was removed from a ventilator, his mother said goodbye to him for the last time and walked out of St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Birchfield recounted.

"She was greeted by a beautiful butterfly," he said.

The memorial service drew a diverse group of mourners who said the killing had touched them deeply. Several students wore buttons bearing his picture.

Michael Herrera, who runs a mentoring program for lesbian, gay and transgender youths in Los Angeles, said he came to represent the adolescents with whom he works.

His organization, called Lifeworks, held a candlelight vigil in honor of King on Wednesday, he said.

"He expressed himself in a way that is not the norm," Herrera said. "And he paid for it."

Paul Dalton, 12, is a student at King's school. He attended the memorial with two buddies, brothers Parkher, 14, and Ben Murphy, 12.

"We wanted to show the family that we care," Dalton said.

catherine.saillant @latimes.com

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