Youngest Orlando shooting victim just graduated from Catholic high school

Akyra Murray, who just recently graduated from West Catholic Preparatory High School, was the youngest victim of the Orlando nightclub shooting June 12.

According to news reports, Murray's family went to Orlando to celebrate her graduation, and she and her cousin and friend decided to go dancing at Pulse, which admits teens.

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When the gunman opened fire, Murray and her cousin escaped, but they returned inside the club to find their friend and the three young women then hid in the bathroom until police broke in three hours later. Murray, who had been shot in the arm, lost a significant amount of blood. Her cousin, Tiara Parker, and friend, Patience Carter, survived the shooting and were recovering from injuries.

Carter, a 20-year-old Philadelphian, was visiting Florida for the first time, vacationing with her two friends. Her friends' parents drove them to Pulse that evening.

"We were just all having the night that we dreamed of," she said. "It was the most beautiful bonding experience three girls could have on their first night on vacation."

At 2 a.m., just before the club was about to close, Carter tapped at her phone to order an Uber ride.

"That's when we started hearing the gunshots," she said. Maybe, she thought, it was something the DJ was playing to get people to leave. "I was so confused."

She and Murray had separated from Parker and were in the outdoor patio area. Carter insisted on going back inside for her friend.

The shots continued and the trio ran to a bathroom with other panicked clubgoers.

It all seemed so unreal.

"I was even Snapchatting in the bathroom stall," she said.

And then, the unthinkable: The shooter entered the bathroom and sprayed bullets. Blood was everywhere.

"At that point, we knew this wasn't a game. This was very real. It was shock; we just went from having the time of our lives to the worst time of our lives in a matter of minutes."

The mass shooting at the gay nightclub left 50 dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 wounded.

Police said identified the lone gunman as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, who opened fire inside the Pulse club in Orlando in the early morning hours of June 12. News reports said that Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

At the start of the attack, Murray sent a text to her mom pleading for their help. She also called her and told her she had been shot and was bleeding.

Murray's mother told The Associated Press that her daughter didn't drink and wanted to have fun that night.

"Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra's loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady," said a statement on West Catholic Preparatory High School's website.

The Lasallian school planned a private memorial vigil for Murray June 15.

Murray transferred to the school her junior year. By the time she graduated this spring, she had become a career 1,000-point scorer for the girls' basketball team and was named a Second Team All Catholic by coaches of the Philadelphia Catholic League.

An honors student, she also ranked third in her graduating class.

Murray had earned a full athletic scholarship to Mercyhurst College in Erie, founded by the Sisters of Mercy, which she was planning to attend in the fall to study criminology.

"May God bless Akyra's soul and provide comfort to all family and friends during this very troubling time," the school's statement said. "At a time like this, let us work together to move beyond fear. Let us come together to find peace and strength in God, seeking comfort from our loved ones—and in our community."

Another message on the school's website was posted by Murray's basketball coach, Beulah Osueke.

"Losing Akyra is heartbreaking," she said. "This is a very difficult day, not just for the Murray family but for the West Catholic family and all that were touched by Akyra's warmth and magnetic embrace."

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