With school out Friday, Madel Duran and her 10-year-old son, Victor, knew just how to spend their free afternoon. They made the short trek from their Oxnard home to honor a boy they never knew.
At E.O. Green Junior High School, mother and son placed a hot-pink flower lei and a wooden rosary on a growing makeshift memorial for slain eighth-grader Lawrence King.
Police say the 15-year-old, who students say had been teased at school for his effeminate dress, was gunned down early Tuesday by a student in his English class.
His alleged assailant, Brandon McInerney, 14, has been charged with first-degree murder with the special allegation of a hate crime. He was being held in Juvenile Hall in lieu of $770,000 bail and will be tried as an adult.
“It’s a tragedy for Oxnard, because this has never happened before,” said Victor, a fifth-grader who expects to attend E.O. Green next fall. “And it should never happen again”
Although other local shootings have occurred near schools or in their common areas, this week’s killing inside a classroom was a first for Ventura County, authorities said.
As news of King’s killing continued to spread Friday, Oxnard residents said they had been shaken deeply by the sensational crime in their backyard.
“This is a good community filled with good people,” said Duran, 40, adding that her older son had gone to E.O. Green with no problems. “This is a good school. What everyone wants to know is: Why did this happen? We don’t understand.”
An Oxnard father who would identify himself only as Robert said he too was saddened, not only by the senseless loss but by the black eye the week’s events might give the city he calls home.
“When you say you’re from Oxnard, people always immediately think ‘gangs,’ ” he said as he watched his daughter and her friends frolic outside an ice-cream shop in the city’s refurbished downtown. “But it’s not all gangs and violence here. It’s a friendly place and a good place for families.”
The crime rate typically is higher in Oxnard than in Ventura County’s other nine cities. The city also has more gang- related crime, prompting police and prosecutors to designate two areas where known gang members are restricted from gathering.
But residents say that is simply a reflection of the city’s transformation from a tiny agricultural town, where farmers grew lima beans and sugar beets, to Ventura County’s biggest and most diverse city. Oxnard has an estimated population of 193,000, of which about two-thirds are Latino.
“We’re basically a blue- collar community, and some crime goes with it,” said Manuel Perez, 81, who was born in Oxnard and has lived in the same home with his wife, Virginia, 79, for five decades. “But it’s really a very nice place to live with really good people.”
Bullies can be found anywhere, Perez said. What bothers him about this week’s shooting is that it might have been prevented if school officials had more aggressively responded to reports of friction between the two young men.
“Junior high is a critical age, and there are red flags,” Perez said. “They’re not babies anymore, and they’re not in high school. They are just starting to feel their oats.”
Organs were taken from King’s body Thursday and an autopsy was performed Friday, said Senior Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Stevens. He declined to say what organs were harvested or where they went.
In an interview with the Ventura County Star newspaper, King’s father, Greg, said the family believes the donation was the right thing to do. His son was headstrong, artistic and giving, he told the newspaper.
Greg King said seven vital organs were harvested Thursday, adding, “If Larry had the story to write, he’d say, ‘If I have to give someone a heart, I want to give it to them on Valentine’s Day.’ ”
The boy’s death has prompted vigils, a student-organized march and calls for more attention to anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools.
On Friday, officials at the Gay & Lesbian Center in Los Angeles held a news conference to denounce anti-gay student violence, and a memorial vigil organized by the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance was scheduled for Friday night in Ventura.
A peace march organized by King’s classmates at E.O. Green is scheduled for noon today. It will start in a park near the school at 3739 S. 6th St. and continue north through the city to the downtown area.