Police cast wide net in probe of girl who died after school fight
Law enforcement sources said the fight lasted only a minute and that no weapons were used. Family members said the girls were fighting over a boy.
The sources said detectives were investigating whether classmates goaded the girls on through social media and in person. They are seeking to interview a group of students who watched the fight as well as students, teachers and the families of the girls, the sources said.Joanna felt ill after the fight and died hours later. Officials said she suffered blunt-force trauma to the head.
The coroner's office labeled her death a homicide, but no arrests have been made.
Officials with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said no case has officially been brought to them and that the police investigation was “ongoing.” Authorities have refused to discuss the nature of the trauma the dead girl suffered or what potential criminal charges, if any, her adversary could face.
Long Beach police called the case highly unusual and delicate, given the ages of the victim and the possible suspect, and the seemingly benign origins of the fight. Officials said they had no idea what the outcome of their investigation might be or whether criminal charges are warranted.
Law enforcement sources said officers will interview students, teachers and parents, and will look at Joanna's medical history to determine if the fight might have aggravated an existing condition.
Joanna's mother, 41-year-old Cecilia Villanueva, said Monday that she was desperate to find out what happened in the alleyway off Anaheim Street. Investigators, she said, have ordered classmates who witnessed the fight not to talk to her or anyone else, in an apparent effort to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
"All I know is just rumors," Villanueva said in Spanish at the family's duplex near Willard Elementary School, where Joanna was a fifth-grader. "We keep hearing different things. We heard she was bleeding from the nose after the fight, that she was hit multiple times in the head by this other girl. We just don't know what happened. The only one who could have told me what happened is gone."
"It's killing me," she added later.
Joanna's family had moved to Long Beach from Hawaiian Gardens in December 2010. A new face in a working-class community a mile from the more upscale shoreline neighborhoods, Joanna was occasionally picked on at school. There were suggestions that she had been bullied on occasion, but she was a happy child for the most part and "she didn’t like fighting," Villanueva said.
She liked to sing and hoped one day to be as famous as Selena, the late Tejano music star, family members said. She enjoyed watching "Glee" and telenovelas, particularly "Atrevete a Sonar" -- "Dare to Dream." She would have turned 11 on March 12 and had plans to visit Knott's Berry Farm with a cousin, a friend and her two older sisters.
-- Ruben Vives in Long Beach and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles
Photo: Stephanie Soltero, 10, a classmate of Willard Elementary School student Joanna Ramos, sits alone among candles and remembrances at a memorial in front of the Long Beach school. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times