Tairree Lynne West had always been one to help others.
When her best friend died several years ago, she adopted the woman's daughter. When a troubled high school friend needed a place to stay, she offered her apartment.
Generosity may have been her tragic flaw.
Police suspect that those who stabbed and strangled West in her El Segundo apartment last week included Erica Olson, 20, a homeless friend to whom West had given a house key. The assailants also slashed the throat of West's adopted daughter, Ashley, 12, and gagged her 6-month-old daughter, Carlie. Both girls survived.
Olson is the friend West chose to style her hair for her wedding in 1992. West's husband is in the Army and stationed in Georgia.
Detectives said Olson might have used her key to let herself and three other assailants into West's apartment during the early morning hours of Feb. 9.
West, 25, had allowed Olson, an El Segundo High School dropout, to stay with her occasionally "out of the goodness of her own heart," said Alan West, Tairree West's father and a city councilman.
"One of my claims to fame is being able to put myself in somebody else's shoes and see things from their point of view," Alan West said, "but (in this case) I absolutely can't."
He said the two young women met years before at school and had kept in touch.
His daughter "saw people who were down and out and had a strong need to help them," West said.
Tairree West's apartment was ransacked and several compact discs and two stereos were stolen and later pawned, police said. A bloodied, eight-inch knife was found at the scene--its blade in one room and handle in another.
During the attack, Ashley was left with a nine-inch gash from her ear to her throat. Ashley and Carlie now will be raised by Allene and Alan West, the councilman said.
Olson and her boyfriend, Robert Brendon Foster, 18, were arrested a few hours after the attack. Linnette O'Neill Blocker, 18, and Marcus Terral Brewington, 19, were arrested the next day.
Detectives say Foster was angry with West because West had told him she did not want him in her apartment. She suspected him of stealing $100 from her car's ashtray, friends said.
The four are expected to be charged with murdering West and attempting to murder Ashley, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Graff Levine. They are scheduled to be arraigned March 1.
Tairree West was adopted by Alan and Allene West, who owned an El Segundo auto repair shop, when she was 4 or 5. The little girl got into some trouble at school, Alan West said, but as she grew older, she settled down and began helping others.
"She once brought home a classmate who had run away from home," he recalled. "We had to find out who she was and call her parents and let them know their child was doing all right."
Tairree West graduated from El Segundo High School in 1986 and enrolled the next year at El Camino Community College. She was taking an algebra class there this semester and had planned to study English or psychology at a four-year college in the fall, her family said.
She met her husband, Karl Davis of Manhattan Beach, at the college, and in December, 1992, they married. When Davis was stationed in Georgia with the Army, she decided not to join him because they feared he would be sent to Somalia, and she would be left alone in an unfamiliar state.
She stayed with her parents until six months ago, when she moved into the apartment on Imperial Avenue. In addition to taking care of her children and going to class, she worked part time at her brother Steve's El Segundo cleaning business.
"My sister is the epitome of what society should be doing to help the homeless," Steve West said. But "she helped and look what happened to her. She got burned."
Ashley is doing well, Allene West said. The 30 stitches that closed the gash in her neck were removed Monday and the scar likely will be hidden under her chin, she said.
Soon, Ashley is expected to return to El Segundo Middle School, where she is a sixth-grader, and to continue studying dance and acting at a Hollywood studio. She visited Disneyland on Tuesday.
El Segundo residents were shaken by the slaying and the savage attack on a child, but not all of them were surprised.
"It could happen anywhere," said Bill Davis, 60.
Sally Mau, 50, owner of a gift shop in downtown El Segundo, said the slaying has heightened fears in the secluded community.
"I'm sure this will give fuel to the people who don't want (outsiders) to be here," Mau said. "But you can't just shut people out."
J.B. Wise, an El Segundo councilman and close friend of the West family, said the city might need to bolster its police force. He said he might recommend boosting its spending on the department from $8.5 million to $10 million over the next five years.
"This is a sign of the times," he said.
Family members were surprised by the outpouring of support from the community. More than 600 friends and community members attended Tairree West's funeral Saturday at St. John's Lutheran Church. A trust fund has been established to raise money to educate Ashley and Carlie. Information on the fund is available at (310) 615-1072.
"I have a renewed respect for the people of El Segundo," said Alan West, a two-term councilman who is seeking reelection to his council seat April 12. "I just wish it didn't take such a tragedy to bring the (people) together."