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Crowds form at Staples Center; Michael Jackson's family prepares for private memorial

July 7, 2009 |  6:49 am


Crowds were beginning to build at Staples Center this morning in advance of the 10 a.m. Michael Jackson memorial as limos lined up at the Jackson family compound in Encino to take family members to a private memorial at Forest Lawn at 8 a.m.

So far, the Los Angeles Police Department has reported few problems.

Jackson fans were gathered near the intersection of Pico and Figueroa, wearing their gold wristbands proudly and waiting for the 7 a.m. entrance into Staples.

Two women sold T-shirts with flashy studs outlining Michael Jackson's face and had a sign that said "Get Yo' Bling for the King!" Nearby, 19-year-old Chris Benavidez sold bottled water for $2 each. "They said there were going to be a lot of people early," Benavidez said, noting that members of the press and police outnumbered fans in the early-morning hours.

 "But hopefully they'll come," he said.

Benavidez said he also sold water during the Lakers parade. He sold about 175 bottles that day and said he had brought more than three times that number for today's memorial.

Sisters Yady Arreola, 24, and Lisa Acevedo, 19, held up their arms with their gold wristbands attached and said they had been waiting since 1 a.m. They were wearing matching white T-shirts that read "Forever Our King" next to an image of Jackson dancing.

They passed the time listening to Jackson's music in a nearby parking lot with other fans who showed up early, eating turkey sandwiches and Caesar salad and chatting. Acevedo, a sociology student at Cal State Fullerton, said she found out she had won the tickets on Sunday about 6 p.m.

 "I didn't believe it," she said. "I thought it might have been a fake e-mail."

Arreola mentioned the possibility of selling the tickets on EBay, but Acevedo dismissed the idea quickly. "An experience like this I'm only going to be able to have once in a lifetime," Acevedo said.

Tayrin Campos, 11, and her brother Mario, 17, arrived at the corner of Pico and Figueroa at 3 a.m. with their parents and a cousin.

The red marquee of the Staples Center loomed tantalizingly close as they sat on a barrier. "We came to see what we could see," Mario said. "Stars!" Tayrin exclaimed. "I think people are going to be crying tears of joy, I mean sadness," she said, quickly correcting herself. Mario said he was surprised more people hadn't gathered yet.

Most of the movement at 5:20 am involved police officers and media. Mario Campos admitted he came more for the spectacle than because he was a Jackson fan.

 "They should arrest the man who killed him," Tayrin blurted out.

"She thinks they killed him," Mario said, smiling and shaking his head. "He died, he had a heart attack," he told his sister.

"I don't know," she muttered skeptically. In the media area of Staples Center, a man with leather boots and a black 10-gallon hat bobbed as he rehearsed a song he wrote for Michael Jackson.

Holding a laptop, he pressed a button, unleashing brassy music: "Bad news has come from Los Angeles, they say Mr. Michael Jackson has died," the man sang soulfully in Spanish. "For the King of Pop, with all respect, I composed this corrido."

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz and Hector Becerra at Staples Center

Photo: From left, Hannah Chavez, 16; Orpha Chavez, 18; 13-year-old Tikeira Tillis and her mom, Celesia Allison, wake up in the early-morning hours on Olympic Boulevard after arriving the night before for the public memorial service. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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