One is a three-sport athlete. Another is a quiet teenager who became more withdrawn after his mother died a few years ago. A third is awaiting sentencing for his involvement in a violent home invasion that left a man dead.

Somehow they came together Saturday night, determined, prosecutors say, to do one thing: attack a Hispanic man.

Seven Patchogue-Medford High School students were arraigned Monday for a fatal stabbing authorities are treating as a hate crime.

The slaying shocked the community, thrusting issues of race and immigration to the forefront of the 3,000-student school.

All seven students are charged with first-degree gang assault. Jeffrey Conroy, 17, is also charged with first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime.

Conroy, a senior, excelled in football, wrestling and lacrosse. Assistant football coach Bob Sconone said Conroy, who started on defense as a junior, decided against playing this year to concentrate on getting his grades up. He's been a varsity wrestler since ninth grade, was on the varsity lacrosse team as a junior, and planned on playing both sports this year, Sconone said.

Family and friends of two other suspects said their backgrounds made the charges particularly perplexing. Jose Pacheco, 17, is of Puerto Rican descent, according to his attorney, Chris Kirby of Syosset.

"How can it be a hate crime? My son is half-Hispanic," said a woman outside Pacheco's home, who identified herself as his mother.

Anthony Hartford, 17, has a grandmother who is half Puerto Rican, neighbors said.

"His mom is devastated; he has a Hispanic background himself," said Laurence Silverman, Hartford's Huntington attorney. "So why would he be out targeting them?"

Hartford's next-door neighbors said he had a twin sister and they were among four children raised by their mother and grandparents. "We're in a total state of shock," said Terry Tuohey. "I never heard of anything with him getting in trouble.

At least one suspect has been associated with a prior crime.

Christopher Overton, 16, of East Patchogue, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to burglary for his involvement in a well-publicized home invasion that left a man dead. At Teraine Slide's trial - he was convicted of shooting 38-year-old Carlton Shaw to death - he insisted Overton was the shooter. Shaw was found dead in his backyard with his 3-year-old son sleeping on his chest.

The other defendants in the slaying of Marcello Lucero" id="PECLB004384">Marcello Lucero, of Patchogue, are Kevin Shea, 17, Nicholas Hausch, 17, and Jordan Dasch, 17, all of Medford.

Neighbors said Shea's mother died three years ago and the quiet teenager became even more quiet. "His dad is a single father, raising him and two brothers," said attorney Steven Politi, of Central Islip. "It's come as a shock . . . that he's involved in this in any way."

Some students said racism is a problem at the school. A sophomore who said she knew some of the suspects said she just learned that some Patchogue-Medford students engage in the targeted harassment of Hispanics.

But other students said they were unaware of problems. "Jose and Nick are like the funniest kids I ever met," said Jordan Sirico, 16. "I never thought that they would do that."

Superintendent Michael Mostow said the district added six guards Monday, and Suffolk police bias task force members talked to students about race.

Mostow said he hopes "to establish regular activities to address race relations."

"It happened in the community and I think we need to address it," he said.

Said Roger Gardner, 16, a freshman who is Puerto Rican, "It could happen to me."

Staff writer Gregg Sarra contributed to this story.