A bright future cut brutally short
She was set to star this week in her high school’s production of David Mamet’s “The Boston Marriage.” And she planned to volunteer helping the homeless this summer. Seventeen-year-old Lily Burk had a knack for writing and being funny, and while classmates at Oakwood School in North Hollywood carried backpacks, she lugged two canvas bags overstuffed with books, papers and binders.
This girl was “cute and getting cuter,” her mother said. Lily was going places.
Instead, she left her Los Feliz home Friday afternoon on an errand and never returned. Early Saturday her black Volvo was found parked in a lot surrounded by warehouses and lofts near downtown Los Angeles. Lily’s body was found on the front passenger seat, and police are investigating her death as a homicide.
“She was my best friend,” Deborah Drooz, 54, said of her only child. “She was warm and funny and incredibly gifted verbally. We read books together. We loved each other very much. She was looking forward to her life.”
Sgt. Miguel Arana of the Los Angeles Police Department said there were signs of a struggle inside the car. Lily appeared to have head injuries from striking the passenger side of the front windshield, but the car did not show signs of having been in a crash, he said.
Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz said that the cause of death appeared to be blunt force trauma and that there was “strong evidence” that Lily was killed by 5 p.m. Friday. He declined to disclose more details.
Drooz and her husband, Gregory Burk, 59, said their daughter left home about 2:30 p.m. Friday to pick up exams for her mother, an attorney and an adjunct professor at Southwestern University School of Law on Wilshire Boulevard, near downtown.
Lily picked up the papers and, more than an hour later, made separate calls to each of her parents, asking them how to get cash using her credit card at an ATM, police said.
Lily seemed in a rush, her father said, but not frightened. She said she needed the money to buy shoes. Her parents said they told her to come home.
When she had not returned by 5 p.m., her parents became worried.
“I called the police when I got home from work and she wasn’t there. It took them forever to come,” Drooz said. “I called about 5 or 6 p.m. They didn’t get here until after 8,” Drooz said.
“They said she might have run away. I said, ‘This is a kidnapping.’ They said, ‘We’re going to write it up as a missing person.’ ”
The parents were upset, believing that police were handling the case as a missing-person investigation rather than an abduction.
The girl’s parents said they told police that they had contacted the cellphone and credit card companies. Their information showed repeated attempts to withdraw money from an ATM using the credit card, they said. Drooz said she told police that their daughter’s cellphone calls were moving farther east.
The parents also were upset that they were not notified that their daughter’s body had been found until hours after police arrived at the crime scene Saturday.
“It pains me to contradict a grief-stricken mother,” Diaz said. “But this case was always taken very seriously, and if they are implying that we dismissed it as a runaway, they would be mistaken.”
He said police records show that the first call from the parents came in at 7 p.m. Friday and that a night watch detective from the Northeast Station went to the family home about an hour later. The detective remained in contact with the family throughout the night to gather information that he had asked the parents to obtain from Verizon.
The parents, Diaz said, could have been under the mistaken impression that it was being treated as a runaway case because the detective requested that they keep contacting the girl’s friends to ask about her possible whereabouts.
Detectives worked through the night on the case, he said, searching for her in the Little Tokyo and skid row area.
Diaz said that when the Volvo was discovered at 6:15 a.m. Saturday it “almost immediately” was connected to Lily Burk. The detective handling the case was notified and began working with homicide detectives.
Diaz said the delay in notification was an unfortunate but unavoidable result of the work detectives had to do at the crime scene before they could contact the parents. Detectives notified the family a few hours after the car was discovered.
On Saturday night, the couple could not keep from crying as they recalled their child.
“She’s dead, she’s dead,” Drooz sobbed on the telephone to a caller on the other line. “They found her. . . . She was only 17.”
Lily’s SAT scores sat on her bed. She was a National Merit Scholar, which came naturally to her, her mother said.
She did not lack for friends. They went to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival together and planned surprise parties for each other.
“She was dearly loved by a great group of kids,” her mother said. “It’s going to be hard to watch them grow up.”
Lily wanted to be a writer. She would carry around a tiny notebook and pen, constantly pulling them out to write thoughts or draw pictures. She especially enjoyed writing short stories.
She wrote a cheeky review for an animated movie for L.A. Weekly -- where her father, a journalist, used to work -- while she was in middle school. “If your child forces you to go to ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!,’ remember that there’s no law against iPods in movie theaters,” she wrote.
The teen had a soft spot for sick birds, which she would take in whenever she found them. With her mother’s help, she would nurse them back to health.
“She was a really beautiful young woman, full of energy, just really smart,” said Rick Wartzman, 44, whose daughter was one of Lily’s best friends. “She was the kind of kid who walked into a room and lit it up.”
Times staff writers Hector Becerra and Joel Rubin contributed to this report.