The little girl named Payton ate peanut butter with a spoon.
She loved Barbies and makeup.
And she was so excited to start kindergarten next fall that she packed her backpack every day, just to practice.
“She had the softest voice,” her mother, Tabatha Manning, said Thursday. “She almost sounded like she was whispering.”
Payton Benson, 5, was eating breakfast with her mother and little brother Wednesday morning when she was struck by a stray bullet from a gunfight. She died of her injuries.
Shell casings indicated that the gunfire broke out at the intersection of 44th Avenue and Emmet Street, a block from Payton's house. Multiple people exchanged gunfire, police said.
Manning and City Councilman Ben Gray, a relative of Payton's, said during a press conference Thursday that they were seeking justice but asked the community to refrain from retaliatory violence.
“We don't want it done in any way other than what is lawful and good,” Gray said.
Manning, who wept during part of her remarks, said if she could talk to the shooters she would tell them, “Put your guns down.”
Family members, friends and neighbors were trying to deal with the fact that a little girl sitting at her breakfast table had been shot to death.
When the bullets stopped flying, the wailing began, and neighbor Mnongerwa Moalim rushed outside to find Manning next door, soaked in blood and tears.
At that moment, Payton was dying.
Manning had carried her wounded child to her minivan outside the duplex, Moalim said.
The van had a flat tire.
“The (van's) sliding doors were open, and the baby was down there in the car.”
By then, police had arrived, and authorities were tending to the girl from next door, whom Moalim knew as a nice little kid who played outside when the weather was good and tried to get neighbor children to play with her.
Manning and Payton's father, Marvin Benson, cried again Thursday at the press conference and wiped away the tears shed by their children.
“I ask our community to help me in forgiving the people who are responsible for this,” Manning said. “We need some love, everyone. This needs to end for the safety of everyone.”
Marvin Benson said little, preferring to comfort his children. He reminded parents to hug their children more.
“I just want my baby back,” he said. “That's it.”
Payton's brothers and sisters — Viktoria, 10; Isayah, 8; LaTrell, 6; and Xavier, 4 — were trying to understand what had happened to their sister. Xavier was the one with Payton when she was shot.
“This is not fair that people are dying,” LaTrell said. “Not fair at all.”
More than 100 people turned out Thursday night for a prayer vigil at 45th and Emmet Streets in memory of Payton. Speaking at the vigil, Gray called on people to cooperate in the police investigation.
Despite the violence, he said, north Omaha will continue to work toward safer and thriving neighborhoods.
“This community is going to move forward, this family is going to move forward,” Gray said. “We're going to make things happen in the name of Payton.”
Omaha police said Thursday that donors to Crime Stoppers had boosted the cash reward from $5,000 to $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of the people responsible for Payton's death. Tipsters can call 444-STOP and remain anonymous.
A memorial fund for Payton has been established. Contributions can be made at any American National Bank branch in Omaha.
Darwin Johnson Sr., a neighbor of Manning's, recalled seeing Payton and her siblings play outside. He would scold them for going too close to the street.
“Just a baby,” Johnson said of Payton.
World-Herald staff writers Christopher Burbach, Liz McCue and Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.
Payton Benson isn't the first child to be killed by stray bullets on Omaha streets.
Four others, all age 6 or younger, have died since 2002. Four other children suffered injuries from stray bullets since 2007.
Oct. 5, 2008
Alazia Alford, 6, killed by gunfire that authorities said was aimed at a 19-year-old involved in a drug turf dispute.
July 11, 2005
LaSandra Coleman, 5, killed by shots fired at the car in which she was riding near 29th and Parker Streets.
Feb. 11, 2003
DeAndre Robinson Jr., 4 months old, killed by a shot to the head when gunfire was directed at his parents' house, 2201 N. 38th Ave.
Aug. 17, 2002
Curtavius “C.J.” Boykins, 2, killed by a shot to the chest during a gathering outside his family's apartment at 5521 S. 30th St.
May 1, 2008
Kaylia Relford, 9, shot in the thigh by a stray bullet as she slept on the couch in a relative's home near 40th and Spencer Streets.
Jacques Clark, 8 months, suffered minor injuries when a bullet fired into his home at 1924 Binney St. lodged in his diaper.
July 26, 2007
Ja'auna Haynie, 11, grazed on her chest by a bullet when, as she bent over to change the TV channel in her family's living room near 61st Street and Larimore Avenue, two bullets ripped through the wall.
May 1, 2007
Aliyah Cain, 5, suffered a minor wound when a bullet came through the wall at her grandmother's home in the Pleasantview Homes.
Teenagers and adults
Dec. 9, 2012
Tre'Veona Smith, 18, died after being shot as she slept at her grandmother's home near 42nd and Browne Streets.
Oct. 28, 2012
Eriana Carr, 16, died after being shot outside her home at 3505 Redick Ave. while walking with Nakia Johnson, 20, the intended target.
May 31, 2009
John Merritt, 59, injured by an errant bullet while doing asphalt work in a parking lot at Dunn Deal Cafe, 2310 N. 16th St.
April 24, 2008
Taylor Borgeson, 14, hit in the face by a bullet as he sat on the sidelines during a soccer game at his school, King Science and Technology Magnet.
Jan. 1, 2006
Reshaad Toney, 19, paralyzed from the neck down after being struck by a stray bullet near 120th Street and West Center Road.
April 3, 2005
KeNesha Burton, 19, paralyzed from the waist down after she was hit by a stray bullet as she sat in her living room near 17th and Grace Streets.
World-Herald researcher Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report.