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Fans Jam Streets to Mourn Teen Idol

Times Staff Writers

Mourners heaped white roses on the passing hearse of Mexican pop singer Adan Sanchez as it snaked past an estimated 15,000 fans gathered for an evening memorial Thursday, and handfuls of people beat on the doors of a Norwalk church after the viewing of the teen idol’s body had been cut short.

The line to St. John of God Church began forming early Thursday, and by 9 p.m. it stretched for several city blocks and threatened to overwhelm the 200 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers called to keep order.

The 19-year-old singer, son of famed Mexican balladeer Chalino Sanchez, grew up in nearby Paramount and had, in only the last year, begun to forge his own musical signature with a popular CD of romantic ballads and love songs. He died Saturday in a car crash.

Thursday night, the growing throng prompted Sanchez family members to end the viewing, and mourners began to scream wildly when pallbearers loaded Sanchez’s casket into a Chevrolet Suburban hearse.

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“Let us see Adan, let us see Adan!” yelled Anna Lopez, 17, one of the thousands of teenage girls who showed up Thursday. “He’s young and he’s like us. He tried to take the place of his father. That means a lot to us. He represents us -- the Mexicans.”

Adan Sanchez was on a promotional trip through northwestern Mexico on Saturday when the 1989 Ford Crown Victoria he was riding in blew a tire and overturned, according to Mexican authorities.

Thursday’s outpouring at the viewing caught authorities by surprise.

“We were doing a good job up until 5 or 6 this evening,” said Kevin R. Gano, director of public safety for the city of Norwalk. “We had total control until then. It grew and grew, and we started to lose control of the numbers.” The city called for mutual aid at 7 p.m. and started turning people back from the church an hour and a half later.

As Sanchez’s hearse cruised slowly down Pioneer Boulevard with an escort of sheriff’s patrol cars, crowds on both sides of the street swarmed the vehicle and cruisers.

Piles of white roses and ribbons accumulated on the hood and roof of the hearse.

A number of people were detained after they began to rock passing vehicles and throw bottles at authorities. One person had been arrested as of 10 p.m. Sheriff’s spokesman Steven Whitmore said the department was gearing up for another massive crowd today at the 9 a.m. funeral Mass at an undisclosed location.

Relatives of the singer found themselves hemmed in by the crowd and were unable to follow the hearse.

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Sanchez’s aunt, Juanita Sanchez, wept at the spectacle.

“Adan wouldn’t have wanted people to act like this. It just causes more pain to the family -- all of these things that they’re doing.”

As the hearse began to pick up speed as it rolled past the crowds, young fans attempted to force their way into the church and banged their fists on the door, pleading to be let in.

“They say he left, but he didn’t leave,” said Jeanette Morales, 15. Her friend, Jennifer Arriaran, agreed. “If he had left, they wouldn’t have closed the doors. He’s still in there, or something of his is there that we can get.”

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The viewing was to have begun at 9. But when the crowd became large, it was moved up three hours and people were allowed in at 6 p.m.

Apparently scores of people were able to view the body before 8 p.m., when the viewing was stopped so the private service could begin. The viewing was to have resumed at 9 p.m., but that was canceled by Sanchez’s family.

Sheriff’s deputies and funeral directors grew increasingly concerned at the size of the throng. When the funeral director who was handling arrangements announced that the viewing would not resume at 9 p.m., fans began to push forward and ran toward the church.

Belen Hernandez, 17, of Palm Springs traveled three hours from Palm Springs with her sister and two friends, then waited in line three hours before they were told they wouldn’t get to see Sanchez’s body. Hernandez and her fellow mourners each held a single white rose as they pressed against barricades separating the crowd from the church.

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“I don’t think this is going to stop people from coming,” Hernandez said as she eyed the metal gates and lines of deputies. “He means a lot to us; his father was like a legend to us, so we couldn’t believe it when he died too. We felt like we owed it to him to come here.”

Sanchez’s father, who had gained notoriety for his musical ballads of criminal escapades, was killed execution-style 12 years ago in the same Mexican state. The coincidence of his son’s dying in an area known for its drug cartels and violence fueled speculation that the car crash had not been an accident. But police said there was no indication of foul play.

Sanchez was just a boy of 8 in 1992 when his father was kidnapped and killed after a performance in Sinaloa.

But unlike his gun-slinging father, the younger Sanchez nurtured an image as a suave, sharply dressed, romantic teenage idol.

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Within hours of Sanchez’s death, news of the accident sparked tearful calls to radio stations from grieving fans and spontaneous public vigils on both sides of the border -- signals of the growing popularity of the charismatic artist who had made a surprisingly impressive debut as a mainstream headliner 10 days ago at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre.

Mourners gathered from East L.A. to Escuinapa, lighting votive candles for their fallen star and playing Sanchez’s CDs and singing along to his simple but catchy love songs.

Authorities were overwhelmed by the sheer number of mourners for a such a young star. At its peak, Cardinal Roger Mahony arrived on the scene to help disperse the crowd. “Obviously, there is a great deal of affection for Adan Sanchez. It’s clearly more people than they expected...... The best thing to do is pray for him and his family. You don’t want to turn a funeral situation into an unhappy event.”

Vanessa Hurtado, 20, of El Monte said she had come with three friends to pay their respects. She arrived at 7 p.m. because they had to work and go to school. Otherwise they would have come earlier. The night before, they went to his wake. They were close enough to touch his body but didn’t out of respect.

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“We came because we love him. He was just a really nice person. It didn’t matter who you were, he would talk to you or help you. He was our angel,” Hurtado said.

Natalie Saldana, 16, of El Monte compared the outpouring of grief over Sanchez with the response to the death of pop star Selena a few years ago.

“Tonight, we pray for his soul. Everyone wore white because he was a happy person and he didn’t want people to be sad.”

Fans said they heard about the memorial service on Spanish-language radio.

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Sanchez, who adopted Chalino as his middle name, grew up in the shadow of his lionized father. He began singing -- badly at first, he once admitted -- and recorded a series of seven undistinguished albums for local labels before recently signing with Univision, the leading Latin music company in the United States.

In his brief career, Sanchez was called the Mexican version of Garth Brooks for his energetic performances and mass appeal. His fans said they felt uncommonly close to him.

“He never acted like a superstar,” said Marina Valber, who attended Paramount High School with Sanchez. “A lot of people are proud of him because he never moved out of Paramount ... He never moved out of the ghetto when he had money,” Valber said. “He never forgot where he was from.”

Staff writers Geoffrey Boucher, Arlene Martinez, Jeffrey L. Rabin, Jean Paul Renaud, William Wan and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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