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Stunned Wilson High students grieve for slain classmate

Friday night's shooting jolts parents who consider campus to be the safest school in Long beach.

November 03, 2009|Seema Mehta

Mourning students at Long Beach's Wilson High School gathered Monday by the pavement where classmate Melody Ross was shot after the homecoming football game. Leaving handwritten notes to Melody and her family, the teenagers lit candles and shed tears as they remembered the bubbly 16-year-old.

"Why her?" asked sophomore Micah Mathis, 15, who took French with Melody, an honors student. "That's what I want to know."

The mood at the coastal campus was somber as students, teachers and administrators struggled to comprehend what occurred Friday, when someone fired into a crowd of students leaving the game, striking three people, including Melody, who was fatally wounded.

Police patrol cars circled the school. The principal's voice cracked as she addressed students. Grief counselors met with a steady stream of teenagers, who wore black shirts in Melody's honor and released balloons during a lunchtime ceremony attended by her parents.

"It's a large high school, but it's like a family and it feels like we've lost one of our own," said Chris Eftychiou, spokesman for the Long Beach Unified School District. "The students are very resilient and they are helping each other get through this difficult time."

Wilson has 4,300 students, and is racially and economically diverse. The school serves some of the city's most affluent communities, yet half the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, a measure of poverty. Many parents consider Wilson, an early adopter of school uniforms, the safest high school in the city.

Tamura Howard of Signal Hill said her 14-year-old daughter previously attended a Christian school and that she believed Wilson is safe.

"That's why I put her in this school, it has a reputation for being safe and it's in a relatively good neighborhood," said Howard, noting that her daughter attended Friday's game. "This has given me nightmares."

The week had been a boisterous one on Wilson's campus, with pep rallies leading up to the game, and a dance. Students were hoping for an unlikely drubbing of crosstown rival Polytechnic High School, one of the nation's strongest high school football teams.

"Everyone was so, so excited," said senior Daisha Black, 17. "Everyone kept saying, 'Isn't it a good day to be a Bruin?' "

But minutes after the game, shots were fired on Ximeno Avenue just south of 10th Street, striking Ross and two others who are expected to survive.

Although there were hundreds of people leaving the campus, police have no witnesses or suspects. Anyone with information is asked to call the homicide detail at (562) 570-7244.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote today to offer a $10,000 reward.

Meanwhile, rumors swirled across campus about who shot Melody.

"People don't want to talk, they don't want to open their mouths," said Black, who was a few feet from Melody when the shooting occurred, and whose boyfriend comforted her while awaiting paramedics.

Students learned about the death Saturday morning through text messages and the Internet.

Madison Guest, 16, didn't believe the rumors until a friend asked her to bring flowers to track practice Saturday. She was on the team with Melody, and recalled hearing her boisterous cheers on the track.

"She was always happy and always supported me in my running," the junior said. "I'm still in shock. I just tried to go on with my day -- that's what she would have wanted."

Melody's parents were sequestered in their North Long Beach home Monday afternoon. The family fled the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields of Cambodia to move to Long Beach before Melody was born.

One month ago, tired of the violence in their last neighborhood, near Anaheim Street, the center of Long Beach's large Cambodian community, the family moved to North Long Beach.

The district's superintendent set up a fund to help the family with funeral costs and other needs at: http://www.lbusd.k12.ca.us/Community/Education_Foundation/melody_ross _fund.cfm.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

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