Friend remembers Keith Lawrence as he struggles to absorb his death
Feb 23, 2013 (Ventura County Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Chris Merriweather arrived at the 24 Hour Fitness in Simi Valley last weekend planning to play pickup basketball.
He checked in at the front desk and began walking toward the gym.
But Merriweather only made it a few steps before turning around. He walked out back out to the parking lot, climbed into his Toyota 4Runner and drove away.
He still wasn't ready.
Ever since his best friend, Keith Lawrence, was shot and killed three weeks ago, Merriweather hasn't been able to summon the emotional strength to return to the court.
"I normally play at least one to three times per week, but I can't bring myself to do it yet," Merriweather said. "All those guys I hoop with on Saturday and Sunday all knew Keith, and being there brings back memories of him. I just haven't been in the mood."
Merriweather and Lawrence grew up together in Moorpark, and Merriweather was scheduled to be a groomsman in Lawrence's upcoming wedding to Monica Quan, a former assistant women's basketball coach at California Lutheran University.
But instead of playing a role in a celebratory ceremony, Merriweather will be involved in a more somber event.
The memorial service for Lawrence and Quan will be held Sunday at 11 a.m. at Concordia University in Irvine.
Lawrence, 27, and Quan, 28, met while they were students and basketball players at Concordia.
The couple were found shot to death by former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner on Feb. 3 in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium building.
"It still feels unreal that Keith is gone," Merriweather said. "I still feel like I could just pick up my phone and call him. I think once the service is over it's really going to hit home."
Merriweather, 27, and Lawrence first met as fifth-graders playing youth basketball in Moorpark. They attended Moorpark High together, and remained best friends through college while Lawrence went to Moorpark College and Concordia and Merriweather attended UCLA.
"We probably talked at least a couple times a week and still met up with each other at the gym to play pickup together," Merriweather said. "I would get him into the gym at the Wooden Center at UCLA or we would play at 24 Hour Fitness. We always stayed close and would talk about basketball or our relationships."
Merriweather endured an emotional free fall when he found out Lawrence had been killed.
Merriweather was in New Orleans that night watching his good friend Dennis Pitta win a Super Bowl title. Pitta, a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, played basketball with Merriweather and Lawrence at Moorpark High.
Merriweather stayed in Pitta's hotel room after attending some after-parties with Pitta Super Bowl Sunday.
He woke up in the morning to find several voice mails on his cellphone.
"Dennis was there with me when I called back and got the news. Both of us just came crashing down," Merriweather said. "I went from the complete high of one friend accomplishing something so great to a nose-dive within an hour. It was really hard."
Merriweather said everything in Lawrence's life was falling into place before Dorner embarked on his deadly rampage.
Lawrence had started working as a public safety officer at USC and proposed to Quan, his longtime girlfriend, two weeks before they were murdered.
The couple had lived together in the county when Quan was coaching at CLU and Lawrence was attending the Ventura County Sheriff's Academy.
"They were a basketball couple. It was like a love and basketball-type relationship right there," Merriweather said. "She was perfect for him. As athletes it's hard for us to get down to doing actual work and finally get a real job, but she kept him focused and allowed him to accomplish his goals."
Before saving the money to buy Quan her engagement ring, Lawrence saved to purchase his "dream car."
"Ever since that first Blake Griffin commercial, Keith wanted a Kia Optima," Merriweather said. "He was a huge Clippers fan and that is where we always bumped heads because I am a Lakers fan. But he was loyal to the Clippers even through the bad years and really wanted that car."
It turned out to be where Lawrence spent the final minutes of his life before Dorner shot and killed him and Quan in the parking structure.
They were the first two victims of Dorner's revenge killing spree that finally ended when Dorner died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head inside a burned down cabin in Big Bear following a massive manhunt.
"I was just happy they found him and Keith's family can move forward to at least putting him to rest," Merriweather said. "They didn't want to have the funeral with (Dorner) still out there. They wanted to wait until the police caught him."
Merriweather hopes the memorial service can bring him some closure.
He hopes he can eventually get back in the gym to honor his best friend by playing the game they loved -- the friend who always picked the players nobody else wanted for his team because he didn't want them to feel bad.
"He was the best friend anybody could ever ask for," Merriweather said. "He would always be there for you no matter what. There was not a bad bone in his body. He was just generally a good guy."
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