The community said goodbye to five-year-old Payton Benson Thursday. The youngster was killed last week when a stray bullet from a block away hit her at the breakfast table.
Hundreds turned out at Clair Memorial United Methodist Church, near 56th and Ames Avenue, for what was called a Celebration of her Life.
The Reverend Portia Cavitt said, "Every night as her momma went to kiss her goodnight, that Payton would just look up and still want a hug from momma. She knew that love came from home first and that it spread through the family and on into the community."
Payton's mother, Tabatha Manning, spoke briefly during the service and said, “I’d just like to say thank you to everyone for all the support. I wouldn't be able to have the strength I have without everyone backing me up.”
For two hours, the community came together to remember.
Payton’s father, Marvin Benson said, "There are strangers coming up to me; they are shedding tears with me like we went to elementary school together. That's my daughter. She's a loving person. And everyone is getting caught up in it. I appreciate that."
A cousin honored her through music. Payton’s oldest sister, Viktoria Benson, told us about her range of emotions over the past week.
"Every time I see the video of all the pictures of her I say, don't cry. I have to cry,” she said. “Then everyone comes up and hugs me. I start crying again and then I stop. Sometimes I really want to cry and I can't.”
Tabatha Manning told the gathering, "All the cards and flowers and items dropped off at the house are much appreciated. And thank you for being here today for my baby's last party. A celebration of life. Thank you."
A neighbor reported hearing roughly 20 shots at 45th and Bedford the morning of January 15th. Police have made five arrests in connection with the stolen vehicle used in the shooting, however, no one has been charged yet with Payton's murder.
The house was packed. Customers began filing through the doors at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Police officers normally working the streets were working the tables. All their tips were donated as well.
Families said it's all about standing together in a time of need. “We were just so sorry to hear to about poor little Payton and what happened to her and we just wanted to lend our support to help the family, know that people care," said Nancy Schober of Omaha.
"Every child is ours and every child matters and every neighborhood has the right to feel safe in where they live," said Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray, Payton’s great uncle. “Tonight was overwhelming. While they were doing this fundraiser we were saying goodbye to Payton."
Patricia Malik and Sheshona Reed never met the Benson family, but for mom, Payton's death hit too close to home for her not to stop by. "Patricia here is 5 years old and I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a daughter to violence, just that, I wasn't even related to her at all and just, it’s very, very sad."
We asked young Patricia why she wanted to help and she told us, “Because she died."
In the end, Gray hopes the violence will provide the catalyst for city-wide change. “I think people were awakened by a 5-year-old who was eating breakfast, who was murdered from over a block away."
The event was hosted by the Black Police Officers Association of Omaha. If you didn't make it to this event and would like to contribute, the Payton Benson Memorial Fund is set up through American National Bank. Donations may be made at any of its branches.