I followed the news all weekend about the 17-year old Oakwood School student who was found murdered in her car Saturday near downtown LA's skid row, and this morning, on word of an arrest and the evidence that this was a botched robbery, decided to try to find out as much as I could about Lily Burk.
See, at first blush, when I heard the story, I did what I think a lot of us do, to make the news a little less bad. The first thing that ran through my mind was a cynical, "she was probably involved in something bad to be in that crummy part of town," or "she probably was trying to withdraw that money to pay some drug debt or something she got mixed up in." I say cynical, because that's how it seems, but in reality, I think it's hopeful. It's better if the person to whom bad things are happening is at fault somehow, because then it makes sense. Then, in order for it to happen to us, or our mother, or our daughter, they have to also do something bad too. As long as we're good, we're safe.
But that's not the case much of the time, and it appears it wasn't the case for Lily Burk.
She was the daughter of a journalist, Greg Burk, who used to cover music for LA Weekly. Her mother, Deborah Drooz, told the LA Times Lily "was my best friend," that she was "warm and funny and incredibly gifted verbally. We read books together. We loved eachother very much. She was looking forward to her life." The story also says:
"Lily wanted to be a writer. She would carry around a tiny notebook and pen, constantly pulling them out to write thoughts or draw pictures. She especially enjoyed writing short stories.
"She wrote a cheeky review for an animated movie for L.A. Weekly -- where her father, a journalist, used to work -- while she was in middle school. "If your child forces you to go to 'Yu-Gi-Oh!,' remember that there's no law against iPods in movie theaters," she wrote."
Lily was running an errand for her mom Saturday afternoon, an adjunct professor at Southwestern University School of Law in the Westlake district near downtown. She picked up some papers at the University, then about an hour later made two separate phone calls to each of her parents asking how to get cash from an ATM using her credit card.
The LA Times story says "Lily seemed in a rush, her father said, but not frightened. She said she needed money to buy shoes. Her parents said they told her to come home. When she had not returned by 5 p.m., her parents became worried."
Now, Police say there is "strong evidence" she was killed by 5pm on Friday. They arrested a suspect this morning, a 50-year old man named Charlie Samuel. They say there were signs of a struggle in the car, which was found parked in a lot near Alameda and 5th Streets downtown.
Nancy Rommelmann wrote her thoughts in a story, "Unthinkable," on LAObserved:
"I received an email this morning alerting me to the murder of Lily Burk, 17. I thought, Lily, Greg's daughter? No, no...
"Yes. I am not going to detail it. I am going to say that I got in the shower and wept. I was not very close with Greg, but he was on staff at the LA Weekly, where I was writing, and we interacted. I also saw him or his wife, who I never saw not smiling, nearly every weekday morning for five years, because our daughters were schoolmates in Hollywood. Lily was two years younger than my daughter, petite, a smiler like her mother, with waist-length hair and a bouncy step.
"I wrote an email this morning to a dear friend, a mutual friend of Greg's and mine, and said, it's as though we -- LA journos with kids the same age -- are part of the same fishnet, and this has come along and ripped out part of it, irrevocably. It's wrecked people's lives, and the rest of us look at what's happened in horror, but there's nothing we can do to fix it, we can only say how sorry we are and also, that Lily is remembered."
Lily has an R.I.P. page on Facebook that already is populated with over 700 members.
"you are loved," writes Pamela Klein; "wherever your beautiful spirit is now, you are loved. Your presence altered your parents' lives, and will forever shape them. You leave behind such sorrow, in your school, in your home, in our hearts. You leave behind joy and happiness and warmth, too. We pick up the pieces your death ripped apart and throw them into the light of eternity...You are loved in that light."
A classmate at Oakwood school writes, "I remember seeing you in Oakwood plays, seeing you walk around campus with a smile on your face, and making friends laugh. I send my love to Lily's family and friends. To lose someone so young, amazing, and innocent saddens and shocks me."
Another classmate writes, "i remember in math class you would always give me gum even though i knew you hated doing it. i remember that animal clip you wore in your hair that i loved so much. i remember seeing you fall asleep whenever we watched a movie in history. im gonna miss those hugs you used to give me. youre truly an amazing person and i will never forget you."
A friend from another private school writes, "lily, you seeing you every day for so many years has changed my life. you were brilliant and your outlook on life has changed me. i wouldn't be the same person if i had never met you."
So it appears that we can't feel any better about this story. We can't blame the victim or wonder if she got wrapped up in something bad and feel better for our own safety, if this is what it appears to be. Something that could happen to any of us, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can feel better, though, that police think they have their man.