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Orlando mass shooting victim Akyra Murray was 18, the youngest victim

By Harriet Sokmensuer
Updated June 16, 2016 05:30 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Natalie Murray

Eighteen-year-old Akyra Murray had recently graduated high school in Philadelphia and had gone to Orlando for a short vacation to celebrate.

She arrived Friday, and the next night, she went out to the Pulse nightclub with her cousin, Tiara Parker. She had an exciting future ahead of her: She had graduated third in her high school class at West Catholic Prep and was a star basketball player, earning her a full scholarship at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania.

On Sunday morning, she became the youngest victim in the deadliest mass shooting in America that killed 49 innocent people and wounded 53. Akyra was shot while protecting her cousin and friend as they hid in a bathroom stall from the gunman.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Akyra’s mother, Natalie Murray, says her daughter was “well-loved everywhere she went.”

Akyra was a leader on and off the court, Natalie says. She was talented enough to score 1,000 points for the school basketball team during her career, but more important, says Natalie, is that she always had a smile on her face.

“She was never a trouble child. She’s been an honor roll student since second grade [and] she made distinguished honors in eighth grade,” Natalie says. “I mean, she achieved everything. Everything she needed to do, she did.”

‘She Was Fearless’

On early Sunday morning, Akyra, Tiara and a friend went out for a night of dancing. When shots were fired, the group was confused immediately, thinking it was part of the club’s music. Once they realized they were in danger, the group ran to the bathroom where they hid in a stall with 20 other people.

All three girls were shot by the gunman while hiding. Natalie Murray says her daughter was protecting her cousin and friend when the gunman opened fire in the bathroom. Tiara and her friends survived but Akyra died at the scene.

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“She was fearless,” Natalie tells PEOPLE. “She would help a stranger if she could.”

Akyra wanted to study criminology in college, but her dream was to play basketball professionally overseas and move her family.

When she wasn’t practicing her game, Akyra was working on schoolwork or spending time with family and friends, her grandfather Nathaniel Logan tells PEOPLE.

“I’m going to miss my baby,” Logan says. “She was a good girl.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Akyra’s former basketball coach to help pay for funeral expenses.