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Bittersweet Celebration for Stabbing Victim

By Teresa Rochester

April 17 -- Harriet Maran, known affectionately as "Nining," stands in the kitchen of her Ocean Park home and slices mangoes on a cutting board on a small island filled with platters of fruit and bowls of guacamole and salsa.

Laughter and the din of conversation drifts through the house crowded with partygoers -- Samohi students, parents, neighbors, teachers from John Adams Middle School and reporters from "Dateline," Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

This is a birthday party of sorts, a celebration of a life. Today was Maran's youngest daughter's birthday. It would have been Deanna Maran's Sweet 16.

Deanna was murdered, stabbed in the heart, at a party in the affluent neighborhood of Holmby Hills near Westwood last November. The brutal death of the popular honor student and athlete sent shockwaves through the community, prompting a candlelight vigil and calls to end violence among teenagers. Samohi set up the Deanna Maran Memorial Scholarship for Non-Violence.

The partygoers ebb and flow through the house that Deanna, known as "Lala," grew up in alongside three older sisters and a younger brother. Comfortable and warm, the house served as a gathering place for Deanna's many friends.

A teenage boy stops and asks if there's anything he can do to help Maran with the food. No, she says, and as the boy begins to walk away she adds with a laugh, "You know what you can do to help? Eat something. Put something in your stomach so there's more room on the table." The teenager smiles and nods before melting into the group of partygoers

Bryce Maddock, 15, a sophomore at Samohi, said it wasn't unusual to see Harriet Maran in the kitchen feeding a bevy of teens.

"I'm here completely out of respect for her," Maddock said as he stood outside the home. "I was here shortly after it happened. I would never let her mom go through it alone. You feel completely welcome here."

At one point Maran shoos the teenagers upstairs to Denna's bedroom to make space for more guests. Deanna's older sister Claudia, 21, known as "Boopsie," moved home from the University of California at Berkeley shortly after Deanna's death and moved into the room. She sits in a chair at the top of the stairs surrounded by about two-dozen of Deanna's friends. They laugh and joke about soccer.

Downstairs, adults sit with plates full of noodles, tofu, chicken and fat strawberries on their lap. Some have filled out checks for the scholarship fund. There is laughter and quieter sentences that begin with "she was…."

"She was very perceptive even in 7th-grade," said JAMS English teacher Marcia McCarthy, of her former student's writing talent. "She was a natural leader. She was captivatingly beautiful."

"Deanna was one of the girls I got to know," said JAMS assistant principal Marie Everett, whose daughter Cristina was Deanna's classmate in her 8th-grade language arts class. "She was very beautiful. Deanna glowed. She just glowed. She had the most beautiful skin…. She wrote about it (looking different than her fairer skinned sisters)."

It was during Deanna's time at JAMS that she befriended Crystal Spencer in a 6th-grade physical education class. Spencer, 16, said her first impression of Deanna was that she was loud, annoying and rude.

"That was for like two seconds," laughed the Samohi sophomore. "She was just fun as hell."

The two girls kept up their friendship at Samohi, playing on the school's volleyball team together and sharing a locker, which Deanna would either fill with all of her stuff or share with other friends.

"Everyone knew the combination to that locker," Spencer said. "I'd yell at her for taking up all the space."

Maddock and Spencer described their friend as someone who transcended cliques and groups, endearing herself to many people.

"Not very many people didn't know Deanna," said Maddock. "She was really outgoing. She was friends with all the groups at Santa Monica High School. She had no fear at all."

It was her fearlessness and a fierce sense for what was right that prompted Deanna to scold a 15-year-old girl at the party on Thayer Avenue for breaking potted houseplants. Friends, according to police, broke up the ensuing argument. But the 15-year-old called her older half-sister Katrina Sarkissian.

Sarkissian, 17, attacked Deanna, hitting her before stabbing her with a knife in front of a crowd of partygoers who allegedly did not break up the fight. Deanna died a short time later at Santa Monica Hospital, where her friends drove her after the stabbing.

Sarkissian and her half sister were arrested for suspicion of murder the following day. During the interrogation Sarkissian collapsed and later died of a drug overdose. The coroners office ruled it a suicide.

After a three-month police investigation, the District Attorney's Office, in an unusual move, held off its decision to file charges against the younger teen. Instead they organized a meeting with the investigators and Deanna's parents.

"It went well," Deanna's father Ilja Maran, said at the time. "All of the people there are on the same side… There were no disagreeable surprises. What's nice is we are more than content with what the DA and the detectives did."

Last month, the DA's Office charged the teen with one misdemeanor count of battery and a felony count of making criminal threats. She will be arraigned on April 26.
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