To her Cambodian immigrant parents, Ram Chun was the best of both worlds.

The 8-year-old girl, born in a Thai refugee camp, was adapting well to a new life in the San Joaquin Valley of California: She studied hard, played with dolls, drew pictures of trees and people.She also maintained traditional ties to her Cambodian roots, helping her mother cook and clean, and showing respect for her elders.

All that came to an end Tuesday morning, when Ram and four other children - including her best friend, 6-year-old Sokhim An - were mowed down at Stockton's Cleveland Elementary School in a hail of bullets fired by a morose drifter named Patrick E. Purdy.

Purdy, 24, took his own life after the shootings, ending a history of drug addiction and endless jobs - a moody existence in which police said he disliked virtually everybody he met.

The deaths of Ram and Sokhim brought a double tragedy to an enclave of Cambodian refugees living near the school in a decrepit apartment complex called Park Village.

"They played together every day," says Ram's brother, Ra Chun. "They went back and forth to school together. They did everything together."

They also died together on the playground - and Sokhim's mother, Khorn Ing, who has not stopped crying since Tuesday morning, said the two would be buried together.

Park Village residents took elaborate steps to prepare the spirits of the two girls for a trouble-free journey to heaven.

Within the Buddhist faith of the Cambodian refugees, both girls are fully expected to return to Earth in the future, but not within this generation, says Man Hoeuen, a counselor for refugees in Stockton.

A three-day period of chanting was to end Saturday in the modest courtyard of the apartment complex.

Though poor, the refugees have been bringing offerings of rice, incense, cash and fruit to two tables set up for the girls' families.

For Ram's parents, her death dashed the dreams of their most promising offspring.

Ram, the third-oldest child in the family, was the only one to pursue her education vigorously, her mother, Chan Im, says.

"Straight A's," she says proudly, using some of the little English she knows.

Ram's brother Ra says he cried when he learned of his sister's death, but quickly suppressed the tears because he feared that negative emotion would hurt the spirit of his sister.