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Students grieve over slaying of El Camino High soccer player

January 12, 2012 |  9:12 am

El Camino Real High School student Victor Gonzalez

Grieving students poured into El Camino Real High School on Thursday morning, 13 hours after Francisco Rodriguez Jr., a popular 17-year-old soccer player, was shot and killed in front of his Winnetka house.

“I really looked up to him,” Spencer Smith, a tearful 16-year-old teammate told reporters gathered at the entrance of the school. “He was a mentor to me. This is so sad.”

Friends at the Woodland Hill campus described Rodriguez, who went by Poncho, as well-liked, flirtatious and prone to goofing around in class.

“He set out to make people laugh,” said Julien Biwer, 17, who was in his English class.

Many classmates had learned about the killing on Facebook and the word spread quickly. Grief counselors were on hand to comfort students and staff struggling for answers as to what may have provoked the killing.

The principal, Dave Fehte, said the school was cooperating with Los Angeles Police Department detectives but that he felt confident the killer — whoever it was — was not a classmate.

“Francisco had a lot of friends outside of school,” Fehte said, “and we know the people who know him here.”

School officials said they were not aware of any gang activity among their students. A neighbor told a television reporter that Rodriguez walked out of his house when a girl came to the front door and that a car was waiting on the street.

Detectives have not identified a motive or suspects, or determined how many people were involved or how many shots were fired, said Sara Faden, an LAPD officer.

Police arrived at the house, in the 6900 block of Cozycroft Avenue, shortly after 6:10 p.m. Wednesday. Rodriguez was lying in the frontyard, unconscious and not breathing. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Just an hour earlier, Rodriguez had finished playing a soccer game. He was the goalie for the Conquistadors, and he made four saves in the game against Taft High School. The final score was 0-0.

A teammate drove him home after the game, his soccer coach told a television reporter. The soccer team was receiving special attention from grief counselors.

“I have no idea what happened,” said Victor Gonzalez, 14, who described his teammate’s style on the field as “fearless.”

“I wanted to be just like him. A bunch of people did.”


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-- Matt Stevens in Woodland Hills and Alan Zarembo

Photo: El Camino Real High School student Victor Gonzalez, 14, gets emotional as he talks to the media about the shooting death of teammate Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times