By the end of the 2007 school year, he had grown faint. The wide toothy smile and copper-colored skin less defined, the baseball cap diminishing into the background of the poster-sized photograph. Dead for more than a year, Juan Carlos Ramos greets everyone from the window at the corner of Portland and Masonic streets in Albany. As August rolled around and parents began buying new backpacks and school supplies, readying their children for the 2007 school year, the family of Juan Carlos Ramos looked for a new picture to replace the one from which he had begun to fade. In September mylar balloons floated from the railing in front of the window and a colorful Feliz Cumpleaños banner hung across the window celebrating the birth of a young man who will never grow older, who will always be 19.
News of the February 2006 stabbing at the unsupervised party held by an Albany High School student at her parents’ home in the Berkeley Hills arrived on Saturday, a day after the stabbing. Ron Rosenbaum, then principal of Albany High School, sent an e-mail to the AHS e-tree that described in very general terms what had happened. At the time, my older son was a junior at AHS. He was on a camping trip with the Student Conservation Association, a group he volunteers with. When he returned on Sunday, I talked with both of my sons, the youngest a ninth-grader, telling them what had happened, asking them if they knew either Juan Carlos Ramos or the Oppelt children who had held the party. The answer was no to both.
They were not interested in discussing the event in any length, and I had little information. But I reminded them that if they were ever to find themselves in a similar situation that they had an obligation to call 911, whether or not they were implicated in any wrongdoing. I imagined that students would be talking about the party, and I warned my sons against participating in gossip. What I did not anticipate was that on Monday morning, the grassy median in front of Albany High School would be covered with local news vans and reporters, no doubt because the murder had happened in the Berkeley Hills and not in Richmond or Oakland, where similar events rarely attract such attention.