Long Beach police said Saturday night that they don't yet know what killed an 11-year-old girl who'd gone to what they've learned was a brief alley fight after school Friday, witnessed by seven others.
But a trinity of public leaders acknowledged the tragic death of Joanna Ramos, a Willard Elementary School student. She died several hours after a one-minute fight off-campus--from which nobody was knocked down and both girls walked away. By 6 p.m., a relative rushed Joanna, unconscious and not breathing, to a hospital emergency room, where she was raced to surgery but died about 9 p.m. Friday.
Grim-faced and speaking at a press conference at the Long Beach Police Department were Deputy Police Chief Robert Luna, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and Long Beach Unified Superintendent Chris Steinhauser.
Sorrow was expressed for all the families involved, including the impact of the wider school community. (Willard is about a mile from Wilson High School in the Rose Park neighborhood just West of Redondo.)
"It is hard to understand how this could ever happen," Foster said. "And if you are like me, you are thinking of your daughter or your grandchildren, and mindful of how precious life really is. All of us are anxious to get answers from the investigation in hopes that they will help us make some sense of this heartbreak."
Luna offered what detectives have pieced together after two days of witness and family interviews which include speaking to the other fifth grade combatant. And Steinhauser said letters about the case will go out to parents early next week and grief counselors will be available for students of the school, which was aglow Saturday night with a simple candle-lit memorial with construction paper cards and notes taped to a chain-link fence.
Wrote one girl, "Have fun being an angel."
Joanna had not been bullied but had a dispute with another 11-year-old girl, who was not named. A fight was planned for after school, when Joanna was supposed to be at an after-school program. There seemed some conflicting stories about wether Joanna checked in there or went straight to the alley and then after the fight arrived at the after-care program. But Luna said Joanna planned with the other girl to fight in an alley right near school. Parents and students at the school Saturday night pointed to different alleys, but both were visible from the front and side of the campus.
Steinhauster said there was no indication the school knew of the planned fight nor that the girls had a record of problems with each other.
A classmate who said she witnessed the very brief fight told KNBC-TV that the two girls took off their backpacks, put their hair up in buns, and said "Go."
Another friend told KABC-TV she was in the after school program with Joanna and that the fight was over a boy.
``They were fighting just for a boy,'' said the brown-haired girl, who broke down crying. ``Just for a boy, that was just stupid.''
Her Head was Severely Painful
Still another student on that broadcast tonight said Joanna was crying after the fight and had complained to the after-school program director that her head was hurting. The boy said the school reached Joanna's family, who came to get her.
Long Beach police detective Erik Herzog said the investigation is still not certain what caused the fight because about 20 kids interviewed had varying accounts. An IPod of one of the girls is in police custody and Joanna was rumored to have kept a journal on it in which she talked of the girls previously being friends. But Herzog said nothing detectives have seen so far hints of a fight.
The cause of death will be determined by the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, and Herzog said the department doesn't know for certain when the autopsy will be completed.
``After school the girls and approximately seven onlookers walked to a nearby alley to engage in a pre-planned fight,'' Luna said at the news conference, televised by KCAL9. ``We believe the fight lasted about one minute, did not involve any weapons and we believe nobody was knocked to the ground. Once the fight was over, both girls left the location and went their separate ways.''
Luna said Joanna had no visible injuries. Cecilia Villanueva, Joanna's mother, was distraught and sobbing when interviewed on KNBC earlier Saturday. She said Joanna had a bloody nose but went to sleep, and it sounded like she was suggesting Joanna had fallen into a coma, although something might have been mistated or left out because English is not her first language. And she was clearly bereft.
After the cause of death is determined, possibly as early as Sunday, and further interviews conducted, Long Beach police detectives will turn over their evidence and findings to the L.A. County District Attorney's Office for its decision on whether to file any criminal charges.
The Long Beach Police Department’s Homicide Detail will continue investigating the incident to determine if a crime occurred. Anyone who may have information regarding this investigation, who hasn’t already spoken with detectives, should contact the Homicide Detail at (562) 570-7244.
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