Search for Ayana McAllister’s killer continues, family trying to “triumph over tragedy”

UPPER MARLBORO, MD. -- This week marks one year since Ayana McAllister, a college freshman, was killed while home on spring break and while the search for her killer continues, the girl's family is carrying on her legacy and trying to triumph over tragedy.

McAllister was a student at St. Augustine's University in North Carolina and studying criminal justice and wanted to pursue a career as a police officer.

"It’s not fair, because she was well on her way. She was well on her way to being a productive member of society. It’s not fair. It’s very hard," said her mother, Tyreese McAllister, who added that one of the hardest things for her is knowing that her child will not get the same opportunities as other children.

On March 20, 2017, McAllister was home for spring break and watching a music video get filmed outside an apartment complex on the 4300 block of Benning Rd. NE.

"We were just getting ready to leave and go get some food and then all of a sudden we heard gunshots," said her sister Ndaja McAllister, who was there with her.

Ayana McAllister had been hit by one of the bullets and would die of her injuries the next day.

Investigators do not believe that McAllister was the intended target.

"This is one of the saddest cases you can think of," said D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham. He added that detectives are making progress on catching her killer, but are still asking for tips. "I can’t even begin to imagine what this family is going through, you know losing a daughter who was just going out on any regular evening and she never came home."

McAllister's dad, Anthony, said what the family is going through depends on the day.

"Somedays I wake up and it’s just hard to get myself going, other days we just kind of keep it moving," added Anthony McAllister.

He said what helps keep the family moving is the foundation they created in Ayana's memory, The Ayana J. McAllister Legacy Foundation.

The family said the foundation has several goals. One is to provide scholarships. One scholarship will go to a student at St. Augustine's University who is studying criminal justice, like Ayana. Three scholarships will be given to students who create an anti-gun violence message for social media. A fifth scholarship will go to a student who lives in the apartment complex where Ayana was killed.

"Because we are not angry with that community. That community is very much reflective of who we are. African-American people who want to raise their people and give them a decent life, but if gun violence is occurring there randomly. That can’t hardly happen," said Tyreese McAllister.

The foundation is holding its inaugural benefit dinner and fashion show to support the scholarships in May.

The family said the other goal of the foundation is to address gun violence.

"When I was 17 years old I hadn't lost any friends to gun violence and for me to have, at the time, a 17 and 18-year-old who’s going to a funeral for their peers at least one a year, was way too much and that’s traumatic," said Tyreese McAllister. She said that while she is glad a conversation is underway to address gun violence in schools, their foundation will focus on addressing the issue in communities of color where different fixes will be needed. "When people are committing crimes they usually have gotten their guns by illegal means. And so, background checks, evaluations, mental health evaluations, they won’t make a difference in our community."

"I would like our foundation to focus on not only getting guns off the street, but creating better lives so that kids don’t ever have to pick up guns," she added. She said that hope to create a better life extends to her daughter's killer. She said she is not angry with whomever did it and hopes they turn themselves in, but if not, then she hopes they can turn their life around. "If they could take their life and make something out of it, I would be OK. It would be well with my soul. Them sitting in jail for 30 or 40 years, that does not serve me. It doesn’t serve my family and it doesn’t bring Ayana back."

McAllister's dad added that while this will be a tragedy that the family never gets over, it is something they will overcome.

"We want to continue to let everybody know who Ayana was and she continues to be in our lives and triumph over tragedy encompasses all that," added Anthony McAllister.