Xinran Ji, a USC graduate student, was attacked and killed July 24 walking to his apartment near campus. Ji, 24, was an engineering student from China. Five people are in custody in connection with the deadly assault.
Ji is the third student from China to be killed in the last three years. Wu Ying and Qu Ming, both 23, were shot while sitting in a car near campus. Two suspects were arrested. Bryan Barnes pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, and Javier Bolden still awaits trial on murder charges.
The killings have incited conversation among USC's Chinese population — roughly 40 percent of the school's international students — about the safety of their community near campus, the World Journal reports. Many students used social media to console each other after the July 24 incident.*
"So many parents worry every day now," Ran Liu told World Journal. Liu received her Master's degree from USC in December and still lives near campus. "They send us here to study in the U.S. with so much hope, so much love…It's just sad that something like this happened again."
Neon Tommy attended Friday a public memorial for Ji at Newman Hall on campus, one day after Ji's parents visited a funeral home in Alhambra. A cousin, Lisheng Liu, said after the Alhambra service that Ji had a job opportunity in China but chose instead to come to the U.S. to pursue a PhD, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"Since he was in elementary school, Xinran was passionate, he was dedicated, he was outstanding," Liu said in Chinese.
Read Neon Tommy's report below, written by staff reporters Ashley Yang and Heidi Carreon.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 08.01.14 BY NEON TOMMY:
The sound of nearly 300 people rising in unison from their seats echoed throughout the Newman Hall auditorium as the family of Xinran Ji, the 24-year-old graduate student who was beaten and killed near the University of Southern California campus last week, filed in with red eyes and somber faces.
Ji's family, friends and professors—as well as dozens of respectful strangers—came together for a campus memorial service to remember and celebrate Ji’s life. Each speaker walked on the stage and bowed respectfully to Ji's photo on stage and to his parents in the front row.
“We come together as the Trojan Family,” Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni said in his welcome speech. “To form a circle around Xinran Ji… to honor him, to mourn him, and to celebrate him.”
USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett and USC Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis Yortsos both praised Ji as a brilliant, high-aiming student. Yortsos later said that Ji’s death “felt like a nightmare, but was all too real.”
Ji died on July 24 after he was attacked near the corner of 29th Street and Orchard Avenue. The 24-year-old engineering student was severely beaten by five assailants in an attempted robbery. Ji made it back to his fourth floor apartment at 1247 West 30th Street where he died from his injuries.
The LAPD announced a series of arrests in connection with Ji's death on Monday afternoon, charging four suspects—including two juveniles—with murder. One of the suspects, 19-year-old Jonathan DelCarmen, entered the country illegally, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Yortsos said a scholarship would be formed in Ji’s honor for graduate Viterbi students from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. While the school officials spoke PR-approved speeches, it was undeniable that there was tension throughout the service.
Notably absent from the service was USC President C.L. Max Nikias, who according to the USC press room was "away on scheduled travel." Provost Garrett explained that she was standing in to speak on Nikias' behalf while he was away, the reason for which was unclear.
The service was presented in both English and Mandarin, though the Mandarin translation was clumsy throughout. The service's main translator seemed to be flustered as she tried to find the right words. Consequently, whole phrases and sentences from the original speeches were left out. There was some frustration, as the awkward translations were repetitive and sometimes confusing.
Ji’s uncle, Junru He, ascended to the stage to speak on behalf of Ji’s father, who composed a message to his son but chose not to deliver it personally out of concern that he would not be able to maintain his composure.
Mr. Ji reminisced about his son’s milestones fondly, from his first words and first steps to the times he argued instead of listened to his parents, which elicited appreciative laughter from the crowd. During the reading, quiet controlled sobs from rows of students could be heard echoing throughout the small auditorium.
“We know that you didn’t want to leave your parents, grandparents, friends, [and] professors…we know that you left with many regrets. But we say you should have no regrets, [because] we are proud to have you as a son,” the message read. “Go with peace; your love gives us strength to overcome this struggle.” At the end, his parents promised to reunite with their son in heaven.
In his own remarks, Ji’s uncle described his nephew as kind and intuitive, even as a young child. He named photography and cars as Ji’s passions, saying that Ji "loved nature and beautiful things” and that his fascination with the mechanics of cars led him to formally study engineering.
With that, the audience quickly stood as Ji’s parents exited the room, his father supporting his mother while her head remained bowed in sorrow.
Despite the profound loss and suffering, one of the speakers remarked that the struggle to come to terms with Ji’s death had allowed friends and family to meet people who “showed extraordinary kindness” and “brought out the best in us” at a time when they were “angry and puzzled” over the tragedy that struck the family.
The speakers—both close family friends—challenged the attendees to solve three questions that puzzled them most, not only for Xinran Ji but all victims of senseless violence:
“First, why would one human being kill another without reason? Second, why can’t America, with military bases and aircraft carriers around the world to protect other countries, protect their sons and daughters in its own backyard? And third, why is the U.S. so rich as a country, but have neighborhoods [that] are so poor?”
After the remaining members of the Ji family left the room, Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni ended the service with an ancient Chinese proverb: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” He praised Ji’s life as having “embod[ied] the most positive dimensions of the human experience” and asked all in attendance to “carry on those qualities in all that we do.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that USC's Chinese population makes up 40 percent of the student body. We apologize for the error.