They trickled through the doors of USC's Newman Hall on Friday, many dressed in black, others in flip-flops and some carrying bouquets of white flowers to lay near their classmate's photo on stage.
About 400 students gathered at USC to remember Xinran Ji, 24, an engineering graduate student who was beaten to death last week on his way home from campus.
In a two-hour ceremony that left paper programs stained with tears and crumpled in fists, friends, family and USC administrators offered remembrances of Ji to a capacity audience. Ji's mother and father, who arrived in the U.S. on Thursday, also attended the memorial but did not speak.
Ji, his relatives said, was a respectful son who loved his family. He could always make his aunt laugh. On a recent visit to China to celebrate Christmas, he traveled far to surprise his grandparents, jumping out at them when they arrived home one day.
"Son, you left us, but do not regret. We are very proud of you. Go with peace," said Ji's uncle Junru He, who read comments written by Ji's father. "Your love will give us strength. You are not alone. We will always think of you."
Ji was described as an inquisitive and studious child who loved cars. He loved toy cars, and even in elementary school, he could stand by the side of the road and name every car's make and model. As an adult he became the guy everyone asked for car-buying advice.
Studying engineering was his dream, his family said, and at USC he got to live it. USC administrators described Ji as a rising star, leader and innovator within the program. He embodied what it meant to be a Trojan, said Elizabeth Garrett, acting president and provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. She urged the campus community to pull together in the wake of Ji's death.
"Our academic community must remain strong and united as we mourn," Garrett said.
Garrett also announced the creation of a scholarship in Ji's name for students from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau.
Ji was popular among the university's large Chinese population. He was a skilled photographer and leader, and his friends gave him nicknames like "Instructor Ji" and "Popular Ji."
Xu Yuan, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Assn., shared a major with Ji and spoke at the ceremony.
"There will be no more studying and no more pressure in heaven, and I hope he is happy," Yuan said.
During the ceremony, the hall was largely silent and somber, full of bowed heads and cellphones silenced in pockets and purses. When Ji's uncle spoke, many crushed tissues to their faces and the sound of soft sobbing echoed. Ji's father had to leave the room at one point.
Ji is the third Chinese student to be slain near USC's campus in two years. His death has struck particularly hard because most children of Ji's age have no siblings because of China's one-child policy. Parents hang every hope on that one child, students said, and Ji's passing means those hopes pass with him.
"Our parents sacrifice so much to send us to a top school," said Lanzhu Jian, a Chinese national and USC film student. "The child is like the family's entire dream."
Many at the ceremony raised questions about campus security in the wake of the killing and called the area around USC dangerous. Yuan said he appreciated USC's efforts so far — the university has implemented a raft of new safety measures, including more security cameras — but he said administrators must do more.
"We have to speak out," Yuan said.
The Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles sent a representative to speak at the ceremony, who said the best way to remember Ji was to urge USC and the LAPD to improve campus security immediately.
"We condemn this merciless crime and insist that the murderers get the punishment they deserve," said Lei Wang, deputy consul general. "We urge USC to offer his family comfort."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times