Feras Morad's little sister used to stumble in public speaking situations -- her face would redden and her speech would falter.
Her brother, who qualified for the national speech and debate championships when he was a senior at El Camino Real Charter High School, used to urge his sister to take classes to overcome her fear.
Ghada Morad, 16, listened and joined the speech and debate team, just like her big brother.
It paid dividends Wednesday night, when she spoke confidently and clearly at a park in Woodland Hills to a crowd of more than 400 people who had gathered to remember her brother, who was killed last week in a bizarre confrontation with Long Beach police.
"It's absolutely ridiculous that my brother is gone. I don't know how this happened," she told reporters moments before she addressed the crowd. "I don't know how this could have happened to someone like him. ... Even if he did something wrong, he shouldn't have died."
A relative told the Los Angeles Times that Feras Morad, 20, had tried hallucinogenic mushrooms for the first time on May 27; he got into a confrontation with his friends in a second-story apartment and either fell or jumped from a window.
A resident called 911 and reported the scene and said that Morad appeared disoriented, "a little bit violent" and was covered in blood. Dispatchers sent paramedics and police to the scene.
A few minutes after the first officer arrived, Morad was dead. Police officials said in a release a day later that Morad had moved "rapidly" toward an officer and appeared to be a threat. The officer tried to use a Taser to stop Morad, then a flashlight, before pulling out a gun and firing, the department said.
But according to an NBC4 interview with a witness and a slew of social media posts by friends, Morad had his hands up when he moved toward the officer. Morad's friends and family say he desperately needed help.
His death, they say, is just the latest in a string of controversial police shootings of unarmed citizens across the country. In Long Beach, it's the fourth officer-involved shooting this year and 25th in the last three years, the department said. Eleven people have been killed in those incidents, including Morad.
Morad's loved ones say he was the last person anyone would ever imagine getting into a confrontation with police, or anyone for that matter. A public records search turned up no criminal cases or convictions against the Woodland Hills resident.
"He was a violence-last guy. Always used his words," said Joey Cohen, 20, who was with Morad in ROTC.
Morad was selfless, a natural-born leader without an ego, Cohen said. Morad climbed the ranks within his unit to become a chief, but still shined his peers' boots for inspection because the consensus was he was best at it, he said.
Morad graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average and was accepted to UC Berkeley and UCLA but chose Moorpark College, his sister said. He planned to transfer to Cal State Long Beach in the fall and wanted to go to Harvard Law.
He was "intellectually curious" and "emotionally giving," said his debate tutor, Justin Harris.
Morad was also direct. He'd challenge ideas and if he was wrong, he'd make a sincere effort to learn from it, said his longtime friend, Nick Lawrence, 19.
"He was a brother to me," Lawrence told the crowd Wednesday night, choking up with emotion. "He was someone to compare myself to."
Raenelle Navarro, 20, was Morad's girlfriend for five years.
She talked about the time he saw a homeless man outside an In-N-Out burger restaurant and went back in and bought him a meal. Another time, Morad saw a hummingbird in the street and ran into traffic to save it. He nursed it for hours and fed it from a plate Navarro had been eating from, she recalled with a chuckle.
"All we can do is try to be a little more like Feras," she said. "I will always love you."
The Los Angeles County coroner declined to comment on a cause of death for Morad or if a toxicology screen was pending, citing a security hold by Long Beach police. The department has not identified the officer involved in the shooting, has not said how many times he or she fired, or if there was a body camera or dashcam that may have captured the incident.
Morad's friends were planning a rally for Thursday afternoon at a park by the Long Beach Civic Center. From there, they're expected to march to Police Department headquarters.
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