Natalie Murray
December 22, 2016 11:07 AM

Akyra Murray was planning to celebrate a stellar senior year when she joined her cousin and friend at Pulse nightclub on June 12.

The Philadelphia 18-year-old was in Orlando after graduating third in her class and securing a full-ride basketball scholarship with Mercyhurst University. She was having the time of her life before a gunman opened fire just as they were preparing to leave around 2 a.m.

Murray was struck below her ears and in both her arms, and became the youngest of the 49 victims of the deadliest mass shooting in American history. (Her cousin and friend were both shot as well, but made full recoveries.)

Now, six months after Murray’s death, her former teammates at West Catholic Preparatory High School are expressing their love and grief in a quest to honor her memory with their best season in decades.

“We’re here to finish what she started,” senior Morgan Kennedy told ESPN’s The Undefeated in a feature story about Murray’s legacy for the team. The story is also running in ESPN The Magazine‘s “Anything Is Possible” issue, on newsstands Friday.

During her two years at West Catholic, Murray led the team to back-to-back district championships, and this year they’re determined to win a third.

Murray scored more than 1,000 points during her high school basketball career and was “well-loved everywhere she went,” Murray’s mother, Natalie Murray, told PEOPLE in June.

Teammates wiped away tears before taking the court for their first home game of the season last week. The Lady Burrs won 67-8, after taking a break at halftime for a ceremony in which they honored Murray by retiring her No, 20 jersey. Each player hugged Murray’s family while a tribute was read.

“Akyra Murray was then, and continues to be now, the heart and soul of the West Catholic Lady Burrs basketball program. Her influence is felt strongly here today and will continue to inspire us all for many days to come,” the team’s assistant coach, Maureen Deviney, said in the tribute, according to the Philly Tribune.

Murray’s mom told the newspaper that the team’s mission to keep Murray’s legacy alive is exactly what her daughter would have wanted.

“I’m overwhelmed but I feel really good because alive or gone, this was her mission, this was her intention — to leave a legacy. She led a lot of people with the belief that being a leader was [being] unstoppable,” Natalie Murray said. “Nothing was ever out of reach for her.”

 

 

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