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New arrests shake Long Beach campus

Wilson High students and faculty grieving over the honor student’s shooting death last fall are shocked when two of their own are arrested on suspicion of witness tampering.

April 27, 2010|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

Students and teachers at Wilson High School in Long Beach were shaken by a new development in the case of Melody Ross, an honors student who was gunned down in a gang attack outside a homecoming football game last fall.

Two Wilson students now stand accused of trying to intimidate witnesses scheduled to testify against the alleged assailants.

On Friday, Long Beach police arrested a 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl, accusing them of making "verbal and nonverbal" threats and intimidation of key witnesses inside and outside of the courtroom.

Authorities allege the girls confronted one student last week on campus, though officials would not disclose the exact nature of the exchange.

The girls also went to a Long Beach courtroom and flashed apparent gang signs during a pretrial hearing and had to be thrown out, said Long Beach Police Cmdr. Laura Farinella of the gangs and violent crimes division.

"When you have kids out there trying to dissuade people from doing the right thing for Melody, that's just atrocious," Farinella said. "Incidents like this just stir up those horrible feelings of that night."

Prosecutors have not yet filed charges against the two girls. When charges are filed, the girls, who are in custody, will be tried in juvenile court, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Ross, 16, was a talented student and pole-vaulter who had hoped to go to UCLA. She was leaving a homecoming football game with some friends, when she was fatally shot in a crowd of students.

Less than a week later, Long Beach police arrested two 16-year-olds, reputed gang members Tom Love Vinson and Daivion Davis, and charged them as adults for allegedly opening fire into a crowd, killing Ross and wounding two others.

The police investigation last fall was complicated because the shooting was linked to a feud between two gangs, police said. The gang rivalry made many witnesses reluctant to talk to police. Authorities made public appeals for witnesses and their families to overcome their fear and come forward.

"It's unsettling that we have this innocent person that's no longer here, and you have people actually saying that we support the guy in custody," Farinella said. "We need to send a clear message to those young adults that this kind of behavior is unacceptable; that the witnesses should be praised for their courage."

Principal Sandy Blazer said administrators had received no reports of any students threatening witnesses to the shooting until police contacted them Friday and arranged to arrest the two girls while they were at school. They were taken into custody about 12:30 p.m. without incident.

Administrators have been quiet about the latest developments, making no announcements about the two girls' arrests while students and teachers continue to work hard to get past the killing, Blazer said.

Signs hanging in school windows suggest the student body of about 4,500 has mustered some resolve in the last several months.

"No Haterade served here," reads one handwritten sign hanging from a second-story window. Inside the school courtyard, a student-made vinyl sign says "Hate is not welcome at our School."

"Our school has become such a tight-knit group since that tragedy by standing up against violence and hate," Blazer said.

It doesn't mean the troubles are over.

Some of Ross' closest friends still drop in for regular counseling as they continue to mourn their classmate.

tony.barboza@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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