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Schoolyard Slaying: Pupil’s death triggers grief, school fears

January 30, 1997

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ John Pierre Kamel was a seventh grader with a big heart, a fake leg and an Adidas wristwatch sent to him by his mother, a world away in Egypt.

A classmate shot him to death on the sidewalk in front of their middle school when he asked for his watch back, authorities said.

John Pierre was buried by his father and stepmother Wednesday, two days after his slaying and a day after they visited Conniston Middle School for an emotional daytime assembly.

Classmates mourned a funny 14-year-old boy who almost certainly would have known how to lighten the terrible grief he left behind.

``Our son is with God. He’s better off than the rest of us,″ stepmother Linda Kamel told pupils. ``We must harbor compassion in our hearts, not anger.″

She and the boy’s father, Ashruf Kamel, a food manager at a resort, asked those at the school to forgive Tronneal (pronounced Trah-nell) Mangum, also 14, who was arrested Monday and charged with murder, carrying a concealed weapon and firing a gun near a school.

Pupils said John Pierre was popular at the school because he was ``a spark in our day,″ Principal Amelia Ostrosky said.

``He had a way about him that we just grew attached to him,″ she said.

John Pierre wasn’t self-conscious about showing off the prosthesis he needed because part of his right leg was amputated soon after birth. When people mistook him for being Hispanic, he proudly corrected them that he was Egyptian. He talked of becoming a doctor, or on his more-fanciful days, a pro basketball player.

John Pierre and Tronneal traded everything from a mountain bike to a compact disc player. The Adidas watch, a prized gift from John Pierre’s mother in Egypt, became a source of dispute in recent weeks.

School officials insist the fight was not gang-related despite a history of gang violence in the ethnically mixed neighborhood on the southern edge of West Palm Beach.

On Jan. 23, the boys were called before teacher Flora Rigolo, who tried to straighten things out.

``Are you two normally friends?″ she recalls asking them. ``They laughed and said `We trade things.‴

She recalled that Tronneal, one of eight children, had kicked John Pierre in the leg that day, but chose the fake leg ``because I didn’t want to hurt him.″ John Pierre agreed to let Tronneal keep the watch for the weekend, and the matter appeared to be resolved.

Officer Bob McIsaac, the school’s police officer, said he hasn’t been sleeping since the shooting _ in an area where he normally stands each weekday morning. He was at another part of the campus that day, watching a large group of pupils.

``I was a New York City detective for years and I saw kids die with heroin needles sticking out of their arms,″ McIsaac said Tuesday night, his face bathed in candlelight from John Pierre’s sidewalk memorial.

``But it’s different when you know the boy. Everybody here loved the kid. He was special.″

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