School fight that left girl dead lasted only a minute, sources say
A fight Friday between two girls near a Long Beach elementary school that left one of them dead lasted only a minute, according to law enforcement sources.
Joanna Ramos, 10, felt ill after the fight and died hours later at a local hospital. 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. Family members and friends said the girls were fighting over a boy.
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 might be 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, 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 seven blocks from Willard Elementary School, where Joanna was in fifth grade. “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 tonier shoreline neighborhoods, Joanna was picked on occasionally at school. There were suggestions that she had been bullied on occasion. But she was a happy child for the most part — “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 sensation. 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: A memorial at Willard Elementary School for fifth-grader Joanna Ramos. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times