Students struggle with goodbyes after tragedy

Sometimes life doesn't allow you to stop completely, not even for death, so as the students walked onstage to honor the fallen classmate, they wore their dark baseball jerseys, their gray baseball pants, their high blue socks and black cleats.

The Santa Monica High baseball team still had a practice that afternoon.

Shockingly, unbelievably, tragically, Eddie Lopez would not be with them.

The right fielder -- a 10th grader -- was killed by a single gunshot wound Tuesday night, by a bullet that never bothered to find out that he wasn't a gang member, that he lived to bring people together, that he'd never harm a soul.

The baseball team joined the football team on stage at a remembrance service Thursday afternoon and presented Lopez's mother with baseball jersey No. 23 and football jersey No. 28, the jerseys he will never pull over his head again. She clutched them to her chest tightly and cried.

Like his mother, Lopez's teammates don't want to let him go.

"I can't believe something like that could happen to such a great kid," said Devin Ramirez. "I think we're still together as a team. We want to play this season for Eddie."

"This whole year," said Gary Griffin, "every ball we hit, every ball we throw, it's all for him."

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"Popular Athlete at Santa Monica High Shot to Death Off-Campus," The Times' headline read.

The story described how Lopez, 15, was shot near Pico Boulevard and 26th Street by a suspected gang member while walking with two friends about 9:20 p.m.

There are disturbing headlines in the newspaper every day. This one in Thursday's paper struck close to the heart.

Not only because the shooting occurred in my old hometown, up the street from the public pool where I learned to swim, around the corner from where two of my good friends lived. It happened to a member of the Santa Monica High baseball team, a group I spent an afternoon with after a racially motivated fight that rocked the school last year.

I had wondered how a baseball team, where people of different races have to exist, was affected by a campus brawl between African American and Latino students. It turned out that none of them was involved, that they all cherished their participation on the team and respected other people too much to be a part of something so stupid. I came away impressed by their thoughtfulness, their positive attitude on racial relations.

I couldn't think of a less deserving team to be affected by senseless violence, just as they couldn't think of a less deserving person to die than Eddie Lopez.

"He never had any problems with anybody," Ramirez said. "He made everybody laugh, got along with everybody."

At the service, when a student asked who knew Eddie, hands went up all over the amphitheater. It seemed as if half the student body was friends with him.

Even when it ended some stayed behind, standing, hugging, too sad to move.

As two students made their way out, they discussed how Lopez would never take part in anything negative.

"Everybody would be saying racist things, he wouldn't say anything," one said.

"He always had a smile," said Kevin Brockway, Santa Monica's baseball coach. "Even when you were mad at him, he'd smile right back at you. You just couldn't get upset about it. He did something wrong or came late, he'd just smile and do what he had to do. Just a great character.

"I think it's an example of what everybody should go by. No matter how bad things get, your attitude can change you and affect everybody else."

Lopez and Griffin were supposed to get confirmed at St. Monica church this year. He was supposed to have a game Friday.

"He'd always say, I've got to get to baseball," Griffin said. "Just come out here.

"He's not here. But he's still here too, at the same time."

There was none of the usual chatter as the team stretched and started practice Thursday. Behind the outfield fences, there were basketball players dribbling in pickup games, drill team members spinning flags. Somehow, life went on.

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