Student at Long Beach’s Wilson High fatally shot after homecoming game

Friends and classmates gather at a makeshift memorial near the football stadium where Melody Ross was shot. Police say no arrests have been made. "I'm sick to my stomach when something like that happens," the football coach said.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Reporting from Long Beach Ben Bolch and Los Angeles -- The “Supergirl” Halloween costume that 16-year-old Melody Ross wore to the Wilson High School football game was befitting of her promising resume: honors student, pole vaulter and athlete, positive attitude, aspirations to attend UCLA.

Those were the attributes that Ross’ friends and family recalled Saturday as they gathered near the stadium gates at the Long Beach campus. They placed flowers and votive candles at the spot where she was fatally shot Friday night as she and her friends were leaving the Wilson homecoming game against Polytechnic High School.

The daughter of Cambodian immigrants, Ross died at St. Mary’s Hospital at 10:30 p.m., half an hour after she was shot, said her uncle, Sam Che.

Two men, ages 18 and 20, were wounded in the gunfire and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. They are not believed to be students at either school, and their identities were not released.

No arrests have been made, police said.

Classmates and school officials expressed disbelief over the death of a well-liked student.

“It’s very disconcerting. I’m sick to my stomach when something like that happens and you have an innocent kid involved,” said Wilson football coach Mario Morales. He said he heard five to seven shots as he was leaving the stadium after his team’s 34-15 loss to Poly.

“She was an all-around good person,” Demitrius Torres, a 16-year-old classmate, said of Ross, with whom he sat during the homecoming game. He had befriended her last year when the two had a history class together. “She was the only one who got my jokes.”

Demitrius, who joined other students at a makeshift memorial along Ximeno Avenue across from the stadium, had said goodbye to Ross after the game and left to go home. Like other students, he didn’t know how to express his feelings over the senseless death.

Tiffany Ford, a 17-year-old senior and Bruin cheerleader who had recently become friends with Ross, described her as a “nice, bubbly and giggling person.”

After learning of Ross’ death from a mutual friend’s text message Saturday morning, Tiffany said she was “just broken up. I was crying.”

“You are talking about a girl who had a positive attitude,” said Patrick Merola, 17, a close friend of Ross’ sister, Emily, a senior at Wilson. “She was a very good person. I loved her.”

Students on Saturday hugged each other and some sat with their heads down, pondering the loss of a friend. A passerby in a green Toyota truck yelled out: “Police need to do their job!”

“The Long Beach Unified School District extends its deepest sympathies to Ross’ family, friends and teachers,” said district spokesman Chris Eftychiou.

Extra security will be deployed on campus Monday, and grief counselors will be available “for any student who needs to talk about the incident,” Eftychiou said.

A homecoming dance attended by about 200 students was underway on campus when the shots were fired about 10 p.m., Eftychiou said. The sparsely attended dance for a school of 4,500 students was put under lockdown while police searched for suspects, he said. Security had been beefed up for the sold-out game, which Eftychiou described as a “healthy rivalry” between the two Long Beach schools.

Authorities have not determined whether the shooting was gang-related, said Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Dina Zapalski.

Che, Ross’ uncle, said their family immigrated to Southern California in the mid-1980s from Cambodia. “We escaped the killing fields,” said Che, 36, hinting at the irony of his niece’s death outside of a suburban high school with no history of violence. At least one bullet struck her in the side, Che said.

Times staff writer Carol J. Williams contributed to this report.