Akyra Monet Murray graduated third in her class of 42 students from West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, PA, in the spring of 2016. She had recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball after leading her high school team in scoring. “She was a quiet leader and a really special student who worked hard in the classroom and was so excited that basketball was going to help her go to college,” said West Catholic Principal Jim Gallagher. To celebrate her accomplishments, Murray with her parents and 4-year-old sister traveled to Orlando for what should have been a fun-filled vacation. According to Murray’s family, she wanted to party in downtown Orlando, so her parents dropped her off at the Pulse nightclub on Saturday, June 11. That was the last time the Murray’s would see her. Murray would become the youngest victim of the worst act of terrorism to take place on American soil. Akyra Monet Murray was dead at age 18.
The gunman – Omar Mateen, 29, walked into the Pulse Nightclub and opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd of American citizens. His motives are still under investigation but what is known is that Mateen, carrying an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle killed 49 citizens and wounded 53. Of the 49 victims whose lives were ended, nine were of African American descent: Captain Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Paul Terrell Henry, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Akyra Monet Murray, and Shane Evan Tomlinson.
Captain Antonio Davon Brown, 29, graduated from Florida A&M in 2008. He participated in the ROTC program. “He kept a smile on his face. I remember his positive attitude and sense of humor,” Lt. Col. Kelvin Scott, Brown’s ROTC instructor said. “He was willing to work very hard to earn his commission.” Brown would go on to serve in the Army Reserve and spend a year deployed in Kuwait.
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, has been described as “passionate about working in the community,” a man who “wasn’t afraid to take the lead,” according to Jacksonville Jaycees President Shawn DeVries. “If someone needed anything, he’d usually just ask for the details: where, when and what are the deadlines.” Burt worked as a financial aid officer for Keiser University in Jacksonville, FL. He recently earned a degree in human resources management. Keiser University’s Chancellor called Burt “a highly respected member of the KU team.”
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25, was a successful business owner who grew up in Stateville, NC. He graduated from Strayer University South in North Carolina and owned the marketing firm Total Entrepreneurs Concepts. “I remember his smile, his love of life. I want people to know the laughter and the joy he spread,” his brother Chavis Crosby, said. His friends remember him as someone who always posted positive messages on his Facebook page. One of his last post read: “Rise up, start fresh, see the bright opportunity in each new day.”
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, was an Orlando resident. Her father, Shepherd Drayton said that his oldest daughter was in the midst of a “personal renaissance.” “She was climbing from some difficult days to some better days,” said Shepherd Drayton. “She had started going back to church. She was becoming very happy with herself and spending more quality time with her friends and her family.”
Paul Terrell Henry, 41, hailed from St. Petersburg, FL. His friends said he “loved to dance and have fun.” Henry was a father of two children, Alexia, a recent high school graduate and ??/ “Henry loved God and loved to sing,” said his friend Marion Davis who posted a video of Henry singing Precious Lord Take My Hand.
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19, “loved to work out and had an interest in computers and photography,” according to his family. Josaphat called his mother from the Pulse Nightclub. She told him “to look for a way out,” while she called 911. His family learned on Monday morning that Josaphat was one of the victims killed by the shooter.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, told his mother, Mina Justice, via text, “He’s coming. I’m gonna die.” Mina Justice also called the police for her son whom she said “loved to eat and workout.” Justice, an accountant, would tell his mother that he loved her and that the shooter was “a terror.”
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33, was described as a “vibrant and charismatic lead vocalist” for his cover band, Frequency. Tomlinson would perform for the last time earlier in the evening at the Blue Martini nightclub. A few hours later, Shane Evan Tomlinson was dead.
President Barack Obama traveled to Orlando to pay his respects to the victims and their families. Here is an excerpt of his remarks:
“For so many people here who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, the
Pulse Nightclub has always been a safe haven, a place to sing and dance,
and most importantly to be who you truly are. Sunday morning, that
sanctuary was violated in the worst way imaginable. This was an act of
terrorism but it was also an act of hate.
Americans were targeted because we’re a country that has learned to
welcome everyone, no matter who you are or who you love. And hatred
towards people because of sexual orientation, regardless of where it comes
from, is a betrayal of what’s best in us. So if there was ever a moment for all
of us to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs that everybody counts and
and everybody has dignity, now is the time.”