Taniyah Thomas was a bright, hardworking fourth-grader at Washington Park Elementary who liked to ride around on her electric scooter. She was a cheerleader, a big sister, a smiling brown-eyed girl. Just 10 years old.
Frightened by gunfire coming from outside the apartment door early Monday morning, she was heading toward her mother's bedroom when she was shot in the head, Washington, Pa., authorities said. She died about 30 minutes later in the emergency room at Washington Hospital.
"If she had stayed in her bed, she'd have been safe," city police Lt. Detective Daniel Stanek said.
Washington city police believe the apartment in the building at 450 W. Chestnut St. had been the target of an attempted home invasion. Investigators spent Monday conducting interviews and trying to develop leads. No arrests had been made Monday evening.
Family, friends and neighbors hugged each other in the yard next to the apartment building hours after the shooting and struggled to comprehend the loss.
"She was a nice, lovely girl. She was friendly with everybody," said Sherman Brown, who took his granddaughter to cheerleading Wednesdays and walked her to the top of the hill to catch the school bus.
Shortly before 4 a.m. Monday, at least one person forced his way into the building, went upstairs and opened fire multiple times through the closed apartment door where Taniyah stayed with her mother, Shantye Brown, her boyfriend Robert Lester and their baby, Lt. Stanek said.
Everyone was asleep at the time, he said. The intruder or intruders did not get inside.
"We believe they were going to a specific apartment ... and either couldn't get in or just decided to start firing rounds through the door," the detective said.
Investigators believe Taniyah, hearing the commotion, woke up and was going to her mother's room when at least one bullet struck her.
No one else was hurt. Ms. Brown's other son, 5, was next door at his grandparents' home, Mr. Brown said.
Police questioned both adults. Lt. Stanek said Washington police knew the couple but had no reports of recent incidents at that apartment.
Superintendent Roberta DiLorenzo called Taniyah a "bright, shining star" who liked school and always participated in class.
"She was just a lovely little girl who unfortunately we lost way too soon," she said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "It's just very difficult to look at that empty seat in the classroom."
The Washington School District provided grief counseling for students Monday and brought in two retired substitutes for teachers who might also need to speak with a counselor, according to a statement on its website.
Both Washington Park Elementary School principals met with their teachers and with students in fourth through sixth grades Monday morning. Counselors also will be available today.
"Our heartfelt prayers and sympathy are extended to this child's family. All of us are grieving the loss of this beautiful child," the district said in a statement on its website. "She is a member of our Prexie family and her loss will be felt for years to come. Losing a child is the greatest tragedy, but to lose a child to a senseless act of violence is incomprehensible."
The state Department of Education allowed the district to delay today's scheduled PSSA testing for a few days.
The northeast corporate office for Young Champions, which oversees the group Taniyah cheered with, is raising money to help her family pay for a memorial service, a representative there said.
Police ask anyone with information to call them at 724-223-1386.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944. First Published March 31, 2014 8:54 AM