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L.A. is planning a big memorial for Kobe Bryant. But fans aren’t waiting to pay their respects

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Ron Bio, his nephew Branden Parry, left, son Gabriel and nephew Dylan Parry visit a memorial at Juan Bautista de Anza Park in Calabasas for Kobe Bryant and rest of Sunday’s crash victims.
(Los Angeles Times)

Nearly a week since the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter crash, the memorial vigils have not stopped.

People converged all week on L.A. Live and the Staples Center — Bryant’s basketball home — to grieve. Fans are also still coming to the crash site in Calabasas to pay their respects.

Then on Friday, the Lakers put on an emotional tribute at Staples Center led by LeBron James. He remembered his friend in a moving eulogy and recalled the 20 years of blood, sweat and tears Bryant gave to his team.

“Tonight is a celebration” of his life, James said.

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Los Angeles officials are expected to announce a public memorial for Bryant and the others in the coming days. But many fans aren’t waiting for that event to honor him.

Q: What is the scene in Calabasas?

As fans keep coming, there are talks about creating a makeshift memorial where people can sort out their emotions with collective hugs, tears, prayers, teddy bears, candles and cards.

The crush of grieving pilgrims to the crash site, just a quarter-mile behind the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District headquarters and near its restricted reservoir in the northwest Santa Monica Mountains, has prompted the agency to hire additional security guards.

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Representatives of the conservation authority, the water district and the city of Calabasas are expected to meet early next week to identify a memorial site that is safe, easily accessible and not fraught with liability issues.

That won’t be easy. Potential sites under review, officials said, include a dog park and a middle school parking lot near the New Millennium Loop trailhead just off the Las Virgenes Road exit.

“We understand that people need a place to memorialize everyone who lost their lives,” Michael Russo, spokesman for the city of Calabasas, said. “And we’re going to come up with a plan for that.”

In the meantime, he said, people have been leaving flowers and cards on a lawn by the basketball courts at nearby Juan Bautista de Anza Park.

How about Bryant’s home base in Orange County?

Newport Beach, where most of the crash victims lived, has been hard hit.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s faces appeared overnight on the side of El Toro Bravo market in Costa Mesa.

Orange County artist Tyke Witnes, a lifelong Lakers fan, said he had been planning since December to fill the wall at 739 W. 19th St. with a Lakers team portrait, including retired greats such as Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson.

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But when the news broke Sunday that Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter “Gigi” and seven other people from Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, Witnes — a 44-year-old father of two girls — knew he had to change his plans.

A local mariachi band gathered at the foot of the mural Thursday night, serenading the artist as he painted the finishing touches beneath a black sky. A row of candles and flowers lined the sidewalk below the painting. Passersby stopped to admire the mural, take photos and reflect.

“Out of tragedy comes something good,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley wrote in a text message.

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach City Council also paid tribute to those lost.

“Grief and despair have engulfed our tight-knit community,” said Mayor Will O’Neill, who signed nine notes of condolence on cards with the city seal. “Three families in our community lost mothers and daughters, two families lost fathers and we lost neighbors and friends. Our City Council could not start [the meeting] tonight any other way than by remembering each one of these well-loved men, women and young ladies.”

Bishop Timothy Freyer of the Diocese of Orange said, “Kobe was an icon who inspired us through his words and actions to set our goals, work hard and achieve our dreams. He was a committed Catholic who loved his family and loved his faith. A longtime Orange County resident and parishioner in our diocese, Kobe would frequently attend Mass and sit in the back of the church so that his presence would not distract people from focusing on Christ’s presence.”

There has been talk of some kind of more permanent memorial in Orange County.

What about the Los Angeles memorial?

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Murals have popped up across the city honoring the NBA great.

On Thursday, Garcetti said the city was planning a memorial for Byrant and the other victims.

“We don’t have that date finalized but we’ve been talking every day to the Lakers, and most importantly, to [Bryant’s widow, Vanessa] as well. I think one message that I would say is this is not just about a man who was a basketball player, this is about a father, this is about a leader, this is about a filmmaker, this is about an artist, this is about somebody who was so much more than just how he was on the court,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the Bryant memorial would be at Staples Center, which was the site for events memorializing both rapper Nipsey Hussle and singer Michael Jackson.


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