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A Quest for Roots Ends in Death : Crime: Ochari D’Aiello went to Georgia to bolster his black identity. Five days after he arrived, he was shot to death in a confrontation with local youths.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With an Italian-Jewish mother, a black father and a Chicano stepfather, Ochari D’Aiello grew up celebrating Jewish holidays, mixing with figures from the Chicano movement in East L.A. and revering black leaders such as Malcolm X.

D’Aiello, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pasadena’s prestigious Polytechnic School, studied Spanish and shared his Jewish traditions with his school community. But as he grew older, the Altadena youth was drawn more deeply to his black roots.

“His blackness was important to him,” said his mother, Charon D’Aiello-Sandoval, director of the affirmative-action program at Cal State Los Angeles. “That was how society would identify him. Society labels people in split seconds and makes all kinds of judgments based on that label.”

For that reason, D’Aiello, his mother and his stepfather decided that he should enroll this year in the Summer Scholars Program at Morehouse College, a black college in Decatur, Ga., hoping he would spend time with other high-achieving African-American youths and develop stronger ties to the black community.

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But those hopes were never realized. Friday, five days after arriving in Georgia, D’Aiello went out with a group of new friends and was shot to death, allegedly by a local high school student who was driving around with a group of his own friends.

Three black teen-agers from Decatur have been arrested and charged with the killing, said Lt. Mac Worthington of the DeKalb County Police Department. A fourth is being sought.

Describing the shooting as senseless, Worthington said that there were no drug or gang connections. It was apparently provoked by an exchange of words that were “very trivial . . . certainly not worth the life that was taken.”

Now, D’Aiello’s grief-stricken family and the stunned Polytechnic community are left wondering how the world might have been different if a young man who had shown promise as an athlete, actor and leader could have reached adulthood.

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“He was just an incredible young man--full of love, full of life,” said Jennifer Murphy, the mother of one of D’Aiello’s best friends. “He had a deep social awareness and felt very strongly about everything that went on in the world. He really wanted to make the world a wonderful place for everybody to live in.”

A bright, capable student, D’Aiello always took an active role in class discussions and did not hesitate to tackle social issues head-on.

Last year, D’Aiello wrote a research paper on the 1965 Watts riots, concluding that their underlying causes still prevailed. He predicted a similar outburst in the next five years. When rioting broke out after the verdicts in the Rodney G. King case, he spent hours trying to explain why to his classmates at the largely white school.

D’Aiello was also becoming a standout in athletics and acting.

He played club soccer and was the center fielder on Polytechnic’s varsity baseball team and a member of the school football team.

He appeared in school plays and in commercials and played guest spots in several television series such as “Mr. Belvedere” and “What’s Happening!!”

But when family and friends remember D’Aiello, the words they repeat most often are humor, wit, energy, enthusiasm, sensitivity and deep concern for the well-being of others.

Carmie Rodriquez, middle-school director at Polytechnic said D’Aiello really took time to listen and empathize with other people. As a result, he became a confidant of students from a range of social groups and often mediated when disputes arose.

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“He was so up-front and honest,” Rodriquez said. “Kids of so many different personalities could be his friend. He was out there making friends everywhere.”

For D’Aiello’s family, there can be no adequate explanation for the loss of their son.

“We were such a threesome,” D’Aiello-Sandoval said, referring to herself, her son and her husband, David Sandoval, director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Cal State Los Angeles. “Now there is nothing left anymore--just this big hole. It is so painful.”

D’Aiello-Sandoval said she intends to leave her son’s bedroom as it was when he left for summer school, as a reminder of all he accomplished and all he cared about.

Amid posters of black athletes and rap stars, D’Aiello had placed a large poster of Martin Luther King, and a drawing of King with Malcolm X. On a bulletin board, he put three bumper stickers: “Believe in World Peace,” “Another Family for Peace” and “Visualize World Peace.”

A funeral service is scheduled at 11:30 Friday morning at Forest Lawn’s Church of the Recessional in Glendale. A scholarship fund has been set up in his honor at Polytechnic School.


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