Slain teen remembered as joyful, `full of love'

Students, teachers gather at Woodlawn to honor Hae Min Lee

March 12, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The bittersweet lilt of a clarinet ushered a stream of students and teachers into the Woodlawn High School gymnasium. Here, in the roll-out bleachers that are "Warrior Country," scores of somber teen-agers gathered yesterday to reflect upon the life and death of one of their own.

They hung their heads, then smiled. They gazed mournfully into the distance, then laughed. Finally, they clapped their hands -- a round of applause for the friend with the unforgettable smile.

They came together to remember Hae Min Lee, 18, a senior whose body was found Feb. 9 in a shallow grave in Leakin Park. She had been strangled.

A former boyfriend, Adnan Musud Syed, who also was a Woodlawn student, has been charged with murder. But no mention was made of him yesterday. Instead, the focus was on a girl who made a mark on the lacrosse field, in the classroom and in the hearts of her school family.

"She was one of those rare people you meet in life who is always happy, always joyful and full of love," said Hope Schab, who teaches French at Woodlawn.

Ralph Graham, the athletic director, said: "There are no words to describe her smile." Graham then found words to describe her spontaneous outbursts of song: "off-key." Everyone laughed.

He announced that the school is retiring Lee's jersey number in lacrosse and field hockey. A red field hockey jersey, No. 22, was pressed under glass.

Youn Kim, the slain girl's mother, and her grandfather, Yong Kim, were presented with plaques with team photos of the school lacrosse and field hockey teams.

Her grandfather wiped away tears. Her mother wept. Young Lee, 16, her brother, said the memorial service helped bring closure to the tragedy. "The service was great," he said. But he wasn't surprised by the outpouring of affection for his sister. He knew she was regarded as special.

Principal James Wilson said Hae Min Lee left such an impression that two trees would be planted in her memory. A wreath of silk roses, in the circle in front of the school, marked the spot where a cherry tree will be planted once the ground thaws.

Another tree, an evergreen, has been planted behind the school. It will grow on the spot where Lee liked to flop after an exhausting practice session with the lacrosse or field hockey teams.

Susie Twigg, the assistant lacrosse coach, said Lee came into the program as a timid and unskilled player, and left as an honorable mention, All-County performer whose skills were unmatched among her teammates.

"She grew into a leader," Twigg said. "She was a dedicated player, and she was mad if you weren't, too."

An easel held a collage of snapshots of Lee and her friends. In one photo, there was Lee at the junior prom. There she was at the school's military ball. And there she was, lost in high school horseplay, with the classmates who took turns speaking yesterday.

Stacey Walton's voice cracked as she read a poem that started with the line: "You are not forgotten."

Diane Knott, then Jacqueline Stanton, wiped away tears as they recalled their friend.

Debbie Warren's voice shook as she described Lee's love for the "Teletubbies" television program. Aisha Pittman said Lee's jokes weren't always funny, but her enthusiasm always put a smile on her friend's face.

Rebecca Walker, wearing an Aeropostale sweat shirt that Lee had given her as a Christmas gift, said she wasn't sure what to say. So she let Lee speak -- through an e-mail message sent last summer.

Back then, Walker was mourning a friend who had died in an automobile accident. Lee offered some thoughts on grieving -- advice that now gives comfort to her classmates.

"I lost a dear friend myself, about a year and a half ago," Lee wrote. "I locked myself in my room and cried 24-7, until I thought I couldn't cry anymore. But I found close friends are the one thing you need to get on with your life.

"But listen, if you were born, you were meant to die. Of course, no one deserves to die so soon. It's OK to be in pain and be sad. Just don't let death, sadness, madness, etc., etc., etc., rule your life."

Pub Date: 3/12/99

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