Jensen Gray, 27, died from multiple stab wounds allegedly inflicted by a Laguna Beach High School classmate in Santa Monica last week, an incident that has left his bereft parents, Tom and Kerry Gray, and friends reeling from shock and loss.
Despite the tragedy, his father had a smile in his voice as he recalled how much fun it was to be around his quick-witted son, a voracious reader who loved spending time at the beach and who particularly enjoyed verbal sparring, always ready with the perfect comeback. “He was great with the one-line zingers,” said his dad.
By all accounts, Gray, who grew up in Laguna, was an astute observer, punctuating conversations with his rapid-fire, dryly humorous commentary, who was fiercely loyal to his friends, and who had been making headway against bouts with drug addiction that had blemished his past. He exuded a positive energy that resonated with others. “We all very much respected him, regardless of his problems,” said his father. “He was still a very, very special person.”
His mother said that a second grade teacher once predicted he would either grow up to be an attorney or a comedian. Based on the fun times they had with him lately, the latter seemed a likely outcome.
Schoolmate Marcus Young, struggling to come to terms with the sudden and violent passing of “one of my best friends,” said “this doesn’t make sense.”
Ryan Tyler Bright, 26, was arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, July 13, and charged with one count of first degree murder in the early morning fatal stabbing of Gray and a second count of attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a female juvenile, who apparently attempted to break up the assault during a party in Bright’s Santa Monica apartment. Santa Monica Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Lewis said bail was set at $1 million and Bright remained in custody as of Monday.
Officers who responded to the 3:25 a.m. call subsequently detained and arrested Bright near his home.
Both Gray and Bright were enrolled at Laguna Beach High School. Bright had recently moved to Santa Monica, while Gray still resided in South Laguna. At the time of the incident, Gray appeared to be staying in Bright’s apartment, said Lewis.
Young, who also still lives in Laguna, said that Gray’s history of alcohol and substance abuse, including previous convictions on various drug charges, should not define him. While some people viewed Gray as a “druggie,” Young, though admitting to some truth in that moniker, insisted that such an epithet failed to portray Gray’s character as a person or his loyalty as a friend. His father agreed, pointing out that his son quit using heroin for at least 18 months, and that “he was just a really neat guy to be around.”
Young believed Gray was addressing his greater struggle with alcohol abuse, voluntarily attending AA meetings recently. He described Gray as “such a reliable friend,” who once saved his life, though he declined to describe the circumstances. Armed with an incisive wit and playful attitude, Gray loved teasingly pushing other people’s buttons, but a less than serious exterior belied a sensitive, caring young man with a strong sense of moral obligation to friends, Young said.
Gray and Bright were best friends, according to Young, as well as another classmate. Both have arrest records that include various drug charges, including a 2007 incident where they were co-defendants.
Even so, Young is skeptical that the slaying can be laid at the door of their drug addictions.
“This shocked everyone,” said Young. “No one saw this coming.” He said a drug overdose would have surprised him less, but “the fact that it ended in such violence was a shock.”
The charges against Bright, which must be made within 48 hours after a suspect is taken into custody, are subject to modification in the future, Lewis said.
Results from drug tests on the victim and the suspect are not expected for at least six weeks, police said.