NEW BEGINNING ENDS IN TRAGEDY; SLAIN STUDENT HAD REDEDICATED SELF TO SCHOOL, ARMY.
Aaron Bruce Nathaniel transferred to Chatsworth High School one month ago to escape what his parents called ``negative elements'' and to get his life back on track.
Nathaniel, 18, was making new friends, taking four classes on his way to graduation and a stint in the Army.
But on Tuesday, he was shot dead after a fight in a fast-food restaurant where he was applying for a job. Police have arrested Jason Jones, 17, of Lancaster on suspicion of murder and booked him at Sylmar Juvenile Hall.
Jones is a former Desert Winds and Lancaster high school student who served time this year in a Los Angeles County juvenile camp, and had been wanted by authorities since he did not show up for a Sept. 2 court appearance, officials said. Law enforcement sources said his rap sheet lists arrests for robbery, burglary, hit and run, disrupting school grounds and theft.
Armed with a search warrant, police Wednesday found a handgun and ammunition in an apartment at the complex where the suspect fled after the shooting.
Nathaniel was trying to escape just this kind of trouble, his parents said Wednesday.
``We're angry at the way things turned out,'' said the boy's father, John Nathaniel, 54, from the family's Altadena home.
``He was looking forward to graduating in June,'' said his mother, Barbara.
``As soon as he got his diploma he was supposed to go into the military. . . . That's what he was going to do because he thought it was a good move for him and his country.''
Just this Monday, he signed up for the Army's delayed-entry program, his parents said.
``He was very excited. He scored well on the tests and was looking forward to getting his life together,'' his mother said.
``He was so highly motivated and was just charging ahead to do this,'' she said.
``We're totally devastated - it's such a tragedy. He was a great kid trying to get his life together.''
The boy had transferred from Pasadena and La Salle high schools, his mother said. She would only say that he was involved in ``teen-age stuff.''
``He woke up and saw the need for an education and he was moving forward and pushing,'' his mother said. ``He's never been arrested. He's been trying to stay out of trouble.''
Nathaniel joined Pop Warner football in the late '80s, and continued as a running back while at La Salle and Pasadena high schools.
Several shelves of a trophy case in the family's home showcase Nathaniel's love for the sport: football trophies, plaques and pictures of him in uniform.
``Athletics were important in (Nathaniel's) life,'' said Lew Stueck, football coach at La Salle, a private school Nathaniel attended for ninth and 10th grades.
Assistant Principal John Ring recalled the boy as a friendly and popular student who was not a disciplinary problem.
``He was just one of those kids you couldn't help but like,'' said Ring. ``You're always shocked when you hear something like this, especially when it's somebody you know.
``The classroom was a struggle for him, but on the field he could shine,'' said Ring, who was athletic director at the time.
Nathaniel transferred to Pasadena High School because of academic reasons, Stueck said.
At the time of his death, Nathaniel was living in a Winnetka group home that he entered on his own, his mother said.
At Chatsworth High, Principal Dan Wyatt said the youth had completed 20 days of school and was taking four classes to obtain his diploma.
The suspect was arrested Tuesday night following a two-hour search of several apartment complexes across the street from the restaurant at the corner of De Soto Avenue and Lassen Street.
``He's the subject of a current warrant,'' said Janice Jones, a Los Angeles County probation officer who works out of the Sheriff's Department's gang detail office in the Lancaster station.
When arrested, Jones initially identified himself as Jason Jacobs, which is the name of Lancaster High School's varsity football quarterback.
Jones had identified himself as a Lancaster High School student in registering at Antelope Valley College for two summer 1997 classes - weightlifting and an independent-living class for youths in foster homes.
Lancaster High officials wouldn't comment. Antelope Valley Union High School District officials said their records show Jones had been a student between November 1997 and January 1998 at Desert Winds High School.
At Chatsworth High, the mood was somber on campus where about 20 students were counseled by crisis teams. Other students like Quincy Adams donned black ribbons in memory of Nathaniel.
``I felt really bad because that's messed up,'' said Adams, 15, a sophomore. ``People are getting killed over stuff that makes no sense.
``(The shooting) had a lot of people crying,'' said Adams, who lives in Reseda.
Funeral services for Nathaniel will be held Wednesday at noon at St. Elizabeth's Church, 1879 N. Lake Ave., Altadena.
Yvette Cabrera and Bhavna Mistry are Daily News Staff Writers. Nick P. Divito is a Pasadena Star-News Staff Writer.
PHOTO Quincy Adams sports a black ribbon given out at Chatsworth High School on Wednesday in memory of Aaron Bruce Nathaniel.
John Lazar/Daily News