Psychologists Aid Neighbors Grieving Over Girl's Slaying

Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of neighbors lined up for grief counseling at Monte Vista Elementary School on Saturday as police continued their search for the killer of a 9-year-old Santa Ana girl.

The beaten body of Patricia Lopez was found Friday in a drainpipe of the Santa Ana River's flood-control channel about two miles from the school. The quiet, long-haired girl had last been seen by a teacher as she left the playground about 2:50 p.m. Wednesday.

"We have two investigators assigned to the case who are working on some leads," Santa Ana Police Lt. Jack Nelson said.

Blunt Objects Found

Nelson said the department received the autopsy report from the coroner's office Saturday afternoon, but information would not be released until Monday morning. Several blunt objects were found near the body, but police would not describe the objects nor the girl's injuries.

At the school on Monte Vista Street on Saturday, four Santa Ana Unified School District psychologists counseled nonstop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Family members of all ages, from grandmothers to mothers with newborn babies, began lining up at the school early Saturday morning. School officials did not permit reporters to interview them, fearing that they might be discouraged from seeking help.

"I have never dealt with a case like this," said Pat Lentz, a psychologist for the Santa Ana Unified School District after five hours of offering counsel. "There have been serious issues (before), but nothing of this magnitude and this kind of community grieving."

Lentz said the purpose of the counseling was to provide information to parents so they could help their children cope with the tragedy. She said the children must be allowed to express their sadness and fears before they will begin to get over the experience.

"Let them vent until it is all out," Lentz said she told the parents.

The counselors warned parents that their children might be afraid to be alone or be reluctant to attend school, Lentz said. To cope with such problems, psychologists will be at the school this week to offer additional, private counseling to any child who needs it.

Security to Be Tightened

Don Tibbets, principal at Monte Vista, said school security will be tightened in the waning weeks of the school year. A Santa Ana police officer will also be assigned to the 1,300-student campus.

Meanwhile, the mood on Shelly Street--where the Lopez family lives in a modest ranch-style house--was gloomy and subdued.

"We are just trying to live with it," said Hector Lopez, 19-year-old brother of the victim, whose family called her Patty.

Lopez, who was standing outside the family home, said funeral arrangements are pending. He said he had not heard from police since officers visited the family Friday afternoon.

Several friends arrived to offer condolences, but Lopez asked them to return later.

Neighbor Guadalupe Martinez said that his 6-year-old son, Edward, played with the victim but that he did not know her parents.

"My son usually walks home with other children, but now that we know this happened, we'll have to take more care," Martinez said.

James Muro, 22, who lives across the street from the Lopez family, said, "The kids all used to be out on the street, but not now."

As he spoke, his mother came outside to keep an eye on his 3-year-old brother, Steve.

"I just hope they get the guy who did it," Muro said.

The victim normally met her mother after school at the corner of Center Street and McFadden Avenue, about a block from the school gate. But Modesta Lopez was a few minutes late Wednesday and went home to look for her daughter. After four hours of searching the neighborhood, the family called police.

Police are checking the possibility that the killing might have something to do with the Feb. 8 shooting of Hector Lopez, who was grazed on the forehead by a bullet in what officers described as a gang-related incident.

Tibbets said the school will be setting up a fund to collect money and food for the Lopez family.

Tibbets said the victim, who transferred to the school just five weeks ago from Hazard Elementary in Garden Grove, was described by her teacher as "very obedient, very quiet and a nice child."

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