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Exchange Student Dies After Schoolyard Fight

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Nineteen-year-old Jin Su Lee died three days after getting into a fight with a fellow South Korean exchange student.

Nineteen-year-old Jin Su Lee died three days after getting into a fight with a fellow South Korean exchange student.

SYLMAR (CBS) — A South Korean exchange student who died after a fight with a friend and fellow pupil was remembered Friday by schoolmates and administrators who called the death a “tragic accident between good friends.”

Jin Su Lee, 19, collapsed and later died at a hospital after he and a 17-year-old boy traded blows in a fight that lasted about 10 seconds during gym class Tuesday.

The teen, who wasn’t identified because of his age, was arrested Thursday for investigation of assault. Prosecutors deferred filing any charges until an autopsy determines Lee’s cause of death, but police spokesman Richard French said the teen suspect could face a murder charge.

It wasn’t immediately known when the autopsy would take place.

Bill Stark, First Lutheran High School’s executive director, said the teen learned about his friend’s death two days after the fight.

“His reaction was devastation when he heard,” said Stark, who has been housing the boy since he arrived from Korea a few months ago. “He’s still coping, he’s been in agony. We are helping a young man rebuild his life.”

He called the death a “tragic accident between good friends.”

Both boys are from Seoul and their families have traveled to the United States in recent days, Stark said.

Stark said the fight was broken up immediately by a teacher. Lee, who suffered head injuries, took a couple of steps before he collapsed, he said.

The boys apparently had an ongoing dispute but Stark would only say it may have stemmed from cultural differences between the U.S. and Korea.

Lee recently turned 19, and the teen who was arrested was the only Korean boy who attended the birthday party, Stark said. Lee was described as a gifted singer and drummer, while the 17-year-old was a good athlete.

Both teens, who were sophomores, were expected to finish their high school education in the U.S.

On Friday, students at the school in Sylmar, an area of the San Fernando Valley, attended a worship service in memory of Lee. It would have been on the day of the school’s annual Christmas party, before students begin a two-week holiday break.

Lee’s locker was adorned with notes and a necklace bearing a cross. Students also posted messages on Facebook and Twitter, expressing their sorrow over what had happened.

“We are just trying to protect our kids right now,” Stark said.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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