Year after murder of CS Fullerton assistant, ex-coach & players try to move on
FEB 04, 2014 11:49a ET
A year ago, Christopher Dorner began a reign of terror that stretched throughout the entire Southland.
But this is not a story about Dorner. His story has been well told.
This is the saga of how one team came together to play through adversity.
Basketball was Quan's biggest love. The 2012-13 season marked her second as an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton.
This is a story of how a team used basketball to heal and how it continues to remember their former coach.
Former center Jessica Palmer and Quan spent nearly every day of two seasons together until Feb. 3. The redshirt sophomore was rehabbing a series of knee injuries and Coach Mo was influential in that process.
“On top of losing a friend and a coach, we were being told that we needed to watch what we were doing, don't wear Fullerton Basketball gear.”
It started with an ominous text from a friend.
"What happened to your coach?" it read.
It didn't make any sense to Palmer. And in many ways, it still doesn't.
The team was told by then-head coach Marcia Foster not to attend their next classes. They were to meet immediately.
As everyone filed into the locker room, the news hit.
Their assistant coach and her fiance were killed. There is an investigation. The killer was still, at that moment, on the loose and the media was swarming. Instructions were given: Don't wear your team logos.
It was a strange and confusing scene for a team trying to come to terms with what they had just been told.
"On top of losing a friend and a coach, we were being told that we needed to watch what we were doing, don't wear Fullerton Basketball gear," Palmer said. "A lot of it, they tried to say was because of the media. There was press all over campus and they didn't want it to be so easy for the media to recognize who was on the team."
But safety played a role as well.
"We were scared," said Allyson Kelly, a former Fullerton basketball player and coach who is now an academic counselor. "Who was this, why is he doing this and was he coming after us?"
Administration, cops, detectives -- the room suddenly seemed crowded. Kelly suggested separating the team from the administrators so athletic trainer Amanda Rice took them for a walk to the nearby arboretum.
It was then that the grieving process began. Rice told them to remember the good that was Coach Mo. But trying to see good would become increasingly more difficult throughout the next eight days.
Foster promised the team that they would get through this together. The group was starting to routinely convene at Palmer's apartment where they would bake and share stories about Quan. Many confided in Kelly, their former coach.
But nothing could protect the team from the 24-hour news cycle or the social media onslaught.
The emotions were changing, conflicting and more and more confusing as the story took several dark twists.
"It was a bad dream that just kept getting worse," Kelly said. "Every person was really different. We just tried to give each individual what they needed. But it's impossible not to see some of those things on the internet. Some of them even informed me some things they had seen. You had to talk them through and say, 'That's not necessarily true.'"
Dorner had gained followers. Social media became a daily nuisance as his defenders would harass the team, going out of their way to seek members if the team out to tag them in posts. People would approach the team off campus to express condolences.
Palmer estimates she had nearly 100 awkward interactions, including one with a Dorner look-alike.
"It's like, 'Well, thanks. But that's not really what we need right now,'" Palmer said.
Then came the first game after Quan's death. Dorner had yet to be found in the woods and some wondered if he might even show up at the game.
A devastating pregame ceremony took place. The emotion hung heavy in Titan Gymnasium as they tried to play on like nothing had happened. It didn't work -- they lost to UC Riverside.
"The coaching staff was very emotional, it was hard for them to keep it together," Kelly said. "I talked to Coach Foster often and said, 'When you practice, you've got to try and leave it at the door and tell them we're going to work for Monica.' Because that's what she would want."
The season was not over. The Titans received the final seed in the Big West Tournament but they made a promise that they wouldn't give up -- they would win for Coach Mo.
They made it to the semifinals at the Honda Center, losing to Pacific by a heartbreaking three points. Suddenly, a season to forget ended with an unforgettable performance -- but one that would undoubtedly make Coach Mo proud.
It was a run that helped heal them in ways they never thought possible.
"Basketball kind of pulled them through," Kelly said. "They gave the administration and the coaching staff strength. They knew it was going to be OK because they're OK."
After the Big West Tournament, Foster's contract was not renewed. Athletic Director Jim Donovan, who declined to be interviewed for this story, politely thanked Foster for her 10 years of service. Her career record was not stellar and Donovan had only been at Cal State Fullerton since December of 2012 so the move was not entirely surprising.
“Basketball kind of pulled them through. They gave the administration and the coaching staff strength. They knew it was going to be OK because they're OK.”
She is now across town at Fullerton Community College.
"It's been hard, to be honest with you, because there's been so much change," Kelly said. "They (the team) didn't want to let the new coaching staff in. But the new coaching staff has been great with them."
Palmer decided she needed a clean slate. She had planned on retiring but ended up at Division II Chico State, closer to her hometown of Sacramento.
She finds no solace in the fact that Dorner took his own life. Quan, Lawrence and the other victims didn't get a choice in how their lives ended so why should Dorner?
There are constant reminders of Quan all around Cal State Fullerton and even for Palmer in Chico. Bright, multi-colored Nikes always remind Kelly of her former friend and colleague. The team has continued to play for Coach Mo and the new coaches have had nothing but encouragement for the Titans' cause.
"She was incredibly hard-working and persistent. She was passionate and protective," Kelly said. "She loved basketball more than you'll ever know. She loved Michael Jordan and she loved her family ...
"She was an incredible person and she is missed every day."