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August 26, 2013

Melbourne baseball community pays respects to Lane

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — —  The parents and girlfriend of slain Australian baseball player Chris Lane shared a minute's silence at home plate of his former ballpark in suburban Melbourne on Sunday as the city's tight-knit baseball community gathered to offer their support and show their respect at a memorial game in his honor.

An estimated 2,000 former teammates, opponents and their families met at the Essendon Bombers home ground to comfort each other and try and make sense of how the enthusiastic boy they watched grow into a man was murdered last week.

Lane, a 22-year-old student at East Central University, was shot in the back and killed last week as he was jogging in an affluent neighborhood in Duncan, in south-central Oklahoma. Three teenagers have been charged with murder.

By Sunday, a fund set up to help his parents had already amassed more than $150,000.

"We really appreciate the support from both here and in the States," said Chris Lane's father, Peter. "We've had sensational support for our kids from family, extended family, from various communities we've been involved with and we're thankful for that."

Players from Essendon and Melbourne University, wearing black armbands, observed a minute's silence and stood for the U.S. and Australian national anthems before releasing balloons bearing Chris Lane's playing number 40.

Peter Lane said while no serious discussions had been held as to how to spend the money donated to Chris's fund, he'd like to see it used to help other young Australians pursue their sporting futures at U.S. universities.

"I would love something set up that helped kids follow the same path," he said. "As tragic as Chris's end was, he was on a very good life path. He made very good choices and decisions about his future. So that's really pie in the sky stuff, but I'd like to see other kids with the same opportunities Chris had. Maybe if we could make that easier, that's something we could do."

Chris Lane's girlfriend Sarah Harper, accompanied by her parents and brother, arrived in Melbourne with Lane's body on Saturday.

While Harper declined to speak publicly Sunday, Peter Lane said it was important for her and her family to be in Australia.

"It's important for (Sarah) to be here now because we will hang together and we will hang tough. But she's an outstanding kid," he said. "She was doing all the hard yards (in the United States). And for her to be here, it's a chance for her to relax and be comfortable with some people, and she's got some hard things ahead of her when she goes home."

Chris Lane's mother Donna said it was a "tough gig" standing at home plate before the game Sunday.

"It was tough standing on that field where he loved. At the ground where I spent hours in the car park," she said. "Tough, but how lucky when I looked up and all these friends of Chris's and ours were there.

"All of this support and outpouring of love is helping. It's really, really helping."

Gary Bitmead, one of Lane's first baseball coaches at Essendon, said Chris Lane was remembered fondly by everyone at the club.

"Chris was into all sports — footy, cricket — and he saw us running around down here one Friday night and conned his dad into bringing him back, and he fell in love with the sport of baseball," Bitmead said.

"He was a lovely kid, really nice nature. Good with other kids and adults, easy to get along with and as he got more into baseball he had this great work ethic," he added. "You'd have to drag him off the field at the end of training."

Oklahoma prosecutors say the three teens chose Lane as their victim at random. Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards, Jr., 15, of Duncan, have been charged as adults with first-degree murder. Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, of Duncan, was charged with using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and with accessory to first-degree murder. He is considered a youthful offender but will be tried in adult court.

On Saturday, Australia's former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer blamed the gun culture in the United States for the shooting and condemned America's lax firearm controls as a corruptive influence around the world.

Peter Lane refused to be drawn on the subject.

"I've said at the start we're not buying into gun control, punishment, race issues. Our kid died in horrible circumstances and that's not going to be solved by me sitting here making statements about the American political system or anything like that," he said. "He met fantastic people in Duncan who as far as I'm concerned are representative of people in the U.S."

Peter Lane said Chris would have been amused by many of the tributes paid to him since his death, especially his description as a baseball star.

"He didn't take himself seriously," he said. "He would have loved 'star' because it's the last thing he would have seen himself as.

"What he would have been surprised about was that while so many people have said nice things about him as a baseballer and a sportsman, they've also said nice things about him as a person."

 

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