Melody Ross, the Wilson High School honors student whose shooting death after a Long Beach football game touched off an outpouring of sympathy from around the country, was buried Saturday in Whittier.
A hushed throng of family members, friends and dignitaries gathered at SkyRose Chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary, where her first name was spelled out in a collage of photographs taken over the 16 years of her life.
A slide show was screened above her open wooden casket, set amid wreaths of flowers. Nearby, a Wilson football helmet, a Gatorade bottle and a football sat on marble stands, each bearing signatures of those who knew her.
Looking over the crowd, Melody's Uncle, Sam Che, 36, said he was touched by the expressions of love for his niece. He pointed to a photograph of Melody and gently said, "Look at her smile."
At the podium, a family member read a eulogy written by her parents, describing the family's journey from Cambodia to the United States in the mid-1980s to escape the Khmer Rouge.
Melody's parents had moved to North Long Beach only a month ago, tired of the violence in their former neighborhood near Anaheim Street, the center of Long Beach's large Cambodian community. They had hoped to raise their three daughters -- Emily, 17, and Kimberly, 6, as well as Melody -- in a new home.
"In the same house, we hoped to raise our girls to be good citizens and to grasp the potential for a great future," the eulogy said.
But that changed two weeks ago when Melody was gunned down near Ximeno Avenue and 10th Street as she and friends left the homecoming football game.
Authorities said Melody was fatally shot during feuding between rival gangs. Two 16-year-olds have been charged as adults in the killing.
Two other men -- ages 18 and 20 -- were wounded and survived.
Melody's death sparked several candlelight vigils and bake sales to help raise money for her funeral. Music videos and slide shows have been posted on the Web in her honor. Thousands of strangers from across the country also shared their sympathy and sorrow on a memorial page.
"We have lost one of our best people," Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said. "We're here to celebrate the life of an engaging, caring, vibrant, energetic and intelligent young woman."
Students, coaches and Wilson's principal said the loss of Melody, a track athlete, had a strong effect not only on the community but also on the school.
"In the last 15 days, we all have had the opportunity to see and feel the impact one person has on us," said Wilson High Principal Dr. Sandy Blazer.
Weeping, Melody's best friend, Tori Rowles, read a letter to Melody describing how that night replays in her head, how she struggles to understand why it happened. Rowles was a witness to the shooting but was not injured.
"You understand me the best," she said. "I miss you so much."
The three-hour ceremony came to an end as everyone lined up to view Melody's body. Family members wept and stroked her black hair, placing items near her fingers.
During the burial, 16 white doves and a balloon were released into the air. As a prayer was said and a hymn sung, each mourner dropped a rose on the casket, bidding a final farewell.