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Friends, investigators seek answers in killing of O.C. couple

Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence, popular athletes who had just announced their engagement, are found shot to death in their car.

February 05, 2013|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Lauren Williams and Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times
  • A November 2012 photo of Monica Quan, right, who was found shot to death with her fiance, Keith Lawrence.
A November 2012 photo of Monica Quan, right, who was found shot to death with… (Matt Brown, Cal State Fullerton )

They met in college, two highly regarded basketball players who seemed to have the same winning touch on the court and off.

After blazing through high school and college with her outside shot, Monica Quan became the assistant women's basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton. Keith Lawrence, whose highlight shots are still there on his college website, became a campus officer at USC.

Now police in Irvine are scrambling for an explanation — and friends are looking for a way to express their shock — after Quan and Lawrence were found shot to death in their parked car on the top floor of a parking structure in an upscale, high-security condominium complex near UC Irvine.

The two had just announced their engagement and had recently moved into a condominium complex near Concordia University, where they played basketball and had gone on to earn their degrees.

Late Sunday, after a passerby noticed two people in the parked car, police said they found Lawrence slumped in the driver's side of his white Kia. Quan was next to him, also dead. The couple were shot multiple times, and authorities said they have tentatively ruled out the possibility of it being a murder-suicide or motivated by robbery. Nothing in the car, police said, seemed to be disturbed.

The couple's friends and family said they were shaken by the violent deaths of two people who seemed to have so much to offer.

Quan was a 2002 graduate of Walnut High School in the San Gabriel Valley, where she set school records for the most three-pointers in a season and a game. She played at Long Beach State and at Concordia, where she graduated in 2007. She went on to earn a master's degree before becoming the assistant coach at Fullerton.

Quan's father was the first Chinese American captain in the LAPD, and went on to become police chief at Cal Poly Pomona.

Quan was known for pulling students aside to offer encouragement, said Megan Richardson, a former player. Marcia Foster, the head basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton, described her assistant as a special person — "bright, passionate and empowering," she said.

Quan shared a love of basketball with her fiancee, Lawrence, whom she met at Concordia.

He too had been a standout basketball player, starting at Moorpark High, where he played point guard and shooting guard, said Tim Bednar, who coached Lawrence.

Bednar said that Lawrence, who came from a family of athletes, was talented, yet quiet and humble. After Lawrence graduated in 2003, he continued to participate in summer youth camps

When he returned for the camps, Bednar said, he was known as the "best basketball player that ever came through" the school.

"He was awesome with the kids," Bednar said. "They all wanted to be around Keith Lawrence."

Bednar heard from Lawrence when he needed a recommendation to become a police officer after graduating from the Ventura County Sheriff's Academy. In August, he was hired by USC's public safety department.

John Thomas, the executive director and chief of the department, said that Lawrence was an "honorable, compassionate and professional" member of the community.

"We are a better department and the USC campus community is a safer place as a result of his service," Thomas said in a statement.

On Monday night, Quan's friends gathered outside Walnut High School. One clutched a heart-shaped balloon, another carried a collage of her basketball playing days. Still another held a basketball.

Lawrence's friends and family put up a Facebook page. "RIP Keith Lawrence, you will be missed," it said simply. Within hours, 840 had left comments or indicated they "liked" it. Concordia put up a link to Lawrence's game-winning shot that carried the school into a post-season tournament.

Michelle Thibeault, 27, said in a Facebook message that she had known Quan for more than a decade. The two were on the same athletic teams and went to junior high and high school together. "Monica was loved by everyone," she said.

During a somber gathering at the Cal State Fullerton gymnasium Monday, Foster read a brief statement from Quan's brother Ryan.

"We just shared a moment of incredible joy on her recent engagement," he wrote, and then added: "A bright light was just put out."

Times staff writer John Canalis contributed to this report.

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