Four days before her death, Monica Quan had news for her team. Quan, an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton, held up her hand to show off an engagement ring. The players screamed and huddled around her for a closer look, head coach Marcia Foster recalled.
Quan was as happy as her basketball players, and later said she wished she had recorded the moment. She loved to have pictures taken with her friends. She wanted a big wedding, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence, a public safety officer at USC, was trying to work extra hours to make it possible.
The couple was talking about who would be in the wedding party. They had yet to pick a date and a location when they were found Feb. 3, shortly after the Super Bowl, shot to death in their car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium complex.
They had multiple gunshot wounds. There were no signs of a robbery, and investigators ruled out a murder-suicide.
The next day, Quan’s father got a call from a close friend of the family. Randal Quan, a former captain with the Los Angeles Police Department, and Wayne Caffey, a detective with the Southeast Division, had known one another for almost 25 years. Caffey recalled their conversation.
“We lost her,” Quan said. “She’s gone.”
The two men were overwhelmed by the senselessness of the slayings. We don’t know anything, Quan said; we don’t know what happened.
He would later learn that his daughter and her fiance were probably killed by a former LAPD officer who had been fired in 2009; Randal Quan had represented Christopher Jordan Dorner at his termination hearing.
What was once incomprehensible — the deaths of these two young people — was now considered a revenge killing. The reasons were spelled out in an 11,000-word post police found on a Facebook page that they believe belonged to Dorner, 33, who is now a fugitive.
“I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own,” Dorner supposedly wrote. “I’m terminating yours.”
The killings have left the Quan and Lawrence families struggling with their loss. The Quans are in seclusion and not ready to talk about their daughter.
Lawrence’s father, who lives in Denver, had just gotten to work when he heard the news from his wife. “I was caught in a whirlwind,” said Kevin Lawrence, who could not immediately comprehend his son’s death. “My first instinct was to get down there and protect him.”
Lawrence met with the Quans last week and talked with them on the phone. They’ve discussed funeral arrangements and agreed that Monica and Keith should be buried at the same time. Neither family is ready to share details.
“Keith loved his life, and he loved Monica,” Lawrence said.
Basketball was the center of the couples’ lives, but it was more than a game for them.
“Basketball was an avenue for her to learn about other people,” said Caffey, who coached Monica in a local league. “She was a competitor, and this was a way for her to enjoy friendships and build relationships.”
She was 28, a year older than Keith. He was calm and collected on the court; she was spirited and fiery. He was a Clippers fan, and she rooted for the Lakers. She modeled herself after Michael Jordan, taking his number — 23 — as her own. Keith admired the play of point guard Steve Nash.
She wore red-and-black Air Jordans, and he didn’t care about the brand as long as they were brightly colored, highlighter yellow, lime green, red. They both could have spent hours together shooting hoops or shopping at Nike, their favorite store. They would often meet friends at the restaurant and arcade, Dave & Busters.
“We joke that they are up in heaven at a Nike store, or playing basketball at Dave & Buster’s,” said Natasha Belou, a friend of Keith’s.
He grew up playing ball with his father, who would try to block his outside shot with a broom to help him get more arc. His Moorpark High School coach, Tim Bednar, believed that Keith, who was just under 6 feet, would have made it to the NBA if he had been taller. After Keith’s graduation, the school retired his jersey.
Keith would drive two hours, if necessary, for a pick-up game. He liked to team up with weaker players to help draw out their skill, and while he could shoot from well outside the key, he often drove to the basket for the challenge.
Monica started playing when she was 8. Her father had trained her in martial arts, according to Caffey, and her athletic ability took her into basketball. It was a family affair, Caffey said, with her parents showing up at games, bringing fruit, chicken and musubi.
At Walnut High School, she was an intense player who had no tolerance for goofing around on the court; her teammates recalled her inspirational locker room speeches and her cheers before the game. She made mix tapes to get players dancing. Old-school hip-hop was their favorite. They would sing “Rock the Boat” by Aaliyah on the way to games.
If she was self-conscious about her height — 5 foot 6 — the point guard was never intimidated, confident in her role on the team. She knew how to anticipate plays and judge what the other players needed.
“She inspired many young women to play better, improve their game, play harder,” said Monica’s close friend, Antonia Caffey. “She inspired so many younger girls with how hard she worked.”
Monica won a full scholarship to play basketball at Cal State Long Beach but transferred after two years to Concordia University, a Christian school in Irvine. She wanted more playing time and took courses to prepare herself to become a coach. Her first job was an assistant coach at Cal Lutheran.
Keith also ended up at Concordia for his final two years of school, where he studied business administration. He was one year behind Monica and first noticed her practicing on the court.
“There’s a girl I’m always shooting with,” he told his father one day. “She’s really nice, but kind of private. I’m going to ask her out.”
They started to date, and whenever friends talked about her, he would smile and grow quiet. At her college games, he got to know the Quans, who made a point of watching their daughter — as a player and as a coach.
After his graduation, Keith attended the sheriff’s academy in Ventura; he did his field training with the Oxnard Police Department. His ambition was to work with youth, according to his training officer, Robert Valenzuela. He was able to realize that dream when he started working at USC last August.
The couple had their challenges. Friends says that Monica felt he might have loved basketball a little too much; she wanted him to stay focused on their future.
He wanted to make her happy and supported her as best as he could. Whenever they played pick-up games and were on the same team, said his best friend, Chris Merriweather, Keith -- who was also a point guard -- always fed her the ball.
“He told me that he wanted to get his career right,” Keith’s father said. “He wanted to present himself as the man she wanted him to be.”
Keith and Monica were quiet about their life together, and their engagement came as a surprise to most who knew them. Keith initially planned to propose to her at a Nike store. He would buy her some shoes and pretend to drop something on the ground, then reach down and stand up with the ring. But his younger brother, Chris, told him it was a terrible idea.
He then decided to propose to her at home in Irvine. After getting advice from Monica’s mother who knew her tastes, he had a ring specially made. That day, Monica’s parents set up cameras to record the moment, and then left.
He scattered rose petals on the floor, he later told his father, and when Monica came home, Keith struck a romantic pose. He got down on a knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes.