At age 9, T’yonna Major excelled at her school work and in gymnastics, shown flexing her arms after competitions with newly won medals around her neck in photos her proud dad posted on social media.
“She was a light to everyone that knew her,” the girl’s father, Tokiyo Major, posted on the fundraising site GoFundMe, where he has asked for donations to help pay for his daughter’s funeral. “She was everything to us.”
T’yonna was killed Wednesday when a gunman barged into her home outside Orlando and shot the third-grader and her mother, who survived the attack. The Orange County sheriff said the same assailant killed two other people in the Pine Hills area — a TV journalist shot in a vehicle outside and a 38-year-old woman slain hours earlier in the same neighborhood.
Sheriff John Mina said the victims appear to have been killed at random.
Grieving families and friends of the victims are still trying to come to terms with the bloody rampage. A least two vigils in their memory were planned Friday evening.
Julie Schroeder, who has worked with T’yonna’s father for nearly a decade, described the girl’s family as loving and close. She described T’yonna as precocious, with grades at the top of her class and reading two grade levels above her age group, as well as affectionate and polite.
“She loved deeply when you’re around her,” Schroeder told WESH-TV. “She always hugged you and she always referred to you as Mr. and Mrs. because respect was very big in their family.”
Her father wrote that T’yonna was also an “amazing gymnast,” often referred to by her coaches as “the next Gabby Douglas.”
Authorities arrested 19-year-old Keith Melvin Moses at the scene and charged him with murder. The public defender’s office for Orange and Osceola counties, which is representing Moses, has declined to comment.
The first victim, 38-year-old Natacha Augustin, was killed late Wednesday morning. A man who identified himself as Moses’ cousin told investigators that he was driving around with Augustin when he spotted Moses and offered him a ride, according to an arrest affidavit.
The witness, whose name was redacted from the affidavit, said Moses climbed into the backseat behind Augustin, who was fatally shot about 30 seconds later before Moses fled on foot.
Hours later, news crews at the scene of the shooting included Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons and photographer Jesse Walden. They found themselves caught in another round of gunshots, which the sheriff said were also fired by Moses when he returned five hours after the first shooting.
Lyons, 24, was killed by gunfire while sitting inside an unmarked news vehicle. Walden was wounded and taken to a hospital.
“You’re losing a friend,” Walden said of Lyons from his hospital bed. “You’re not losing an acquaintance or just coworker — it’s someone that made working fun.”
Walden said he and Lyons both started working at the TV station around the same time last year and regularly covered stories together on the night shift. He told Spectrum News 13 that Lyons was a “very, very wholesome person” with a great sense of humor.
“He had a very strong sense of justice,” Walden said. “He would really want everyone to follow the rules when it came to people of power.”
Authorities said the gunman then walked into T’yonna’s home nearby, shooting the girl and her mother. Mina said that when deputies wrestled Moses to the ground outside and arrested him, the suspect had a semiautomatic handgun that was still hot from being fired.