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O.C. shootings: Friends, former teacher shocked at woman's death

February 21, 2013 |  6:50 am

When Courtney Aoki was a freshman at Renaissance High School for the Arts in Long Beach, she had an appreciation for literature that was rare for a teenager, said J.C. Marquez, her English teacher.

Whether it was analyzing Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" or doing a table read of Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet," Aoki was consistently focused, Marquez said.

"She just seemed to get it and she wanted to absorb more of it," he said of Aoki’s classroom demeanor.

PHOTOS: Shootings at multiple locations in O.C.

He described Aoki as a polite student at a small school for artistic children who might have been picked on at other places. She wore Dr. Martens boots with dresses and "did her own thing," he said.

So Marquez said he was shocked when he heard that one of his former students was the first victim of a shooting rampage that began inside the Ladera Ranch home of a 20-year-old man who authorities described as a "loner" and a "gamer."

"As a teacher, you assume that they do the best they can," Marquez said. "She was on her way to do something great."

MAP: Orange County shootings

The suspect, Ali Syed, would go on to kill two men and wound three others before killing himself Tuesday in a rampage stretching across Orange County, authorities said.

Marquez said he did not think the woman in the news was his former student at first.

"She wouldn't be in a position like that," he said. "But then again, there’s a big difference between 14 and 20."

TIMELINE: Deadliest U.S. mass shootings

Marquez, now a teacher at Los Alamitos High School, said Aoki carried around a journal that she sometimes wrote poetry in. He said Aoki moved to a different school and that he lost touch with her.

"This girl was extremely talented,” he said. “She had everything going for her in terms of her writing." 

Danni Wood, 23, of Long Beach, said she met Aoki at Renaissance High in 2007 and the two quickly bonded.

Wood said she and some other friends liked to practice white magic after school together, and that they dressed differently. Aoki got along with Wood’s family, who she became close to, she said.

The two fell out of touch when Aoki went to Norwalk High School, she said, but connected again in 2011. They enjoyed listening to bands Sublime and Aqua together and accompanied each other to a heavy metal concert in October, she said.

"She wanted to hear the band I was always talking about," Wood said.

Wood said she talked to Aoki on Sunday on the phone, and that Aoki gave her relationship advice.

She said the two were planning to get tattoos on Wood's upcoming birthday, March 29, and had talked about going to an anime expo and of going shopping for Aoki's birthday in June.

"That was the plan and now it's not going to happen,” Wood said.

Wood said Aoki was "trying to balance work and college" and eventually wanted to be a massage therapist.

Stacie Montgomery, 19, said she went to Norwalk High School with Aoki and that last year, the two got Friday-the-13th tattoos together at a shop in Fullerton.

Aoki got a black widow spider on her chest with the number 13 inside the body, Montgomery said, while she got a butterfly with the same number. Aoki was there for her when she got her first tattoo -- of a heart, she said.

"She was sitting with me, talking and whatnot," Montgomery said.

Now, Montgomery said she is puzzled about the fate of her friend.

"I couldn't believe it," she said, adding that she had no idea why Aoki was at the Ladera Ranch residence.

"I have no idea," she said. "Honestly, I have no idea."

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-- Nicole Santa Cruz

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