A story for every victim

John McGraham, 55

Some pulled up in SUVs, others came pushing shopping carts containing all their worldly possessions.

But all of the more than 300 people who filled a Los Angeles church chapel Saturday to memorialize John Robert McGraham were puzzling over the same question: Why would anyone douse a homeless man with gasoline and burn him to death?

John's life and death gives us a picture of how people in this life treat other people," said Rev. Frank M. Alton, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard, where McGraham's funeral service was conducted in English and Spanish. "The institutions of this community may have failed John. But the people of this community did not."

McGraham, 55, who once worked nearby as a bellman at the Ambassador Hotel, suffered from depression. For two decades he repeatedly spurned efforts of family members and others to remove him from the streets and obtain treatment for him.

But those living and working in the densely populated, diverse neighborhood around 3rd and Berendo streets fed him daily and provided him with clothing. When he was set afire the evening of Oct. 9, residents and shopkeepers rushed to extinguish the flames but were unable to save his life.

McGraham's brother and two sisters were emotional as they thanked those who had befriended him.

"I'll never pass through this neighborhood without remembering what wonderful, wonderful people are here," David McGraham pledged.

(Read the rest of Times Staff Writer Bob Pool's report here).

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