The July 30 issue of LA Weekly has an article about the loss of Lily Burk, the 17-year-old murdered last week in downtown Los Angeles. What the story doesn’t mention – and I respect the author’s need to maintain journalistic distance in the face of such a horrifying event – is that Lily was once a part of the Weekly community. Her father is Greg Burk, a journalist who worked at the paper for over two decades. As a writer and editor, Burk helped to build and shape the alternative newsweekly; as a friend and mentor – and, on more than one occasion, the lone voice of reason – he helped to foster the community within it.
Greg and his wife, Deb Drooz, used to open their home for staff parties, and that was where many of us at the paper met Lily. Kids were always welcome at the Burk household on these occasions, and Lily was as excellent a hostess to the children as Greg and Deb were to their parents. Lily took the other kids to her room to play, shared her toys and occasionally led them on a rampage through the adult section of the party, screaming and giggling.
The LA Weekly community that attended those parties has mostly disappeared from the building now. After new owners took over the paper a few years ago, the staff was dismantled. But the community, though scattered, still exists. We keep track, we keep in touch, and we’re devastated by the news of Lily’s death. We have no idea what to do for our old friends, no idea how to fathom their loss. Many of us didn’t know Lily very well, but we’ve learned a lot about her in this last week. We’ve learned that she was following in her father’s footsteps to become a writer, that she got a perfect score on the verbal portion of her SATs and had a gift for writing short stories. We may not have known his little girl well, but we know Greg, and we know that if Lily had become half the writer her dad is, she would have been brilliant. The world has been robbed of not just a dear, sweet spirit but a strong and gifted voice.