SALISBURY, N.C. - Police said a young mother was murdered by a complete stranger Tuesday evening in Salisbury.
Channel 9's Tina Terry sat down with members of M'ya Miller's family, who said the 19-year-old was focused on building a future for herself and her 10-month-old son before she was killed.
Officers said Miller was riding in a car with her friend, Leroy Truesdale, when Jeffrey Wayne Hooker Jr., 32, pulled up beside them at an intersection.
"We were at the stoplight right there in front of Captain D's and he waved and she waved back, and then we didn't think too much of it. We kept going," said Truesdale.
He told Channel 9's Tina Terry that Hooker followed them for several blocks, but they had no idea why he would take her life or who he was.
"She didn't know him. Neither one of us did. I've never seen this man a day in my life," he said.
According to Truesdale, Hooker eventually got out of his car at North Long Street and East 11th streets, walked up to Miller's window and started shooting.
Police said they received a 911 call from Truesdale saying Miller had been shot multiple times and he was driving her to a hospital, but she died before they got there.
Family members pushed back tears as they shared Miller's story.
"You couldn't be sad around her not for a split second," said Miller's mother, April.
Family members told Channel 9 Miller didn't live an easy life and even spent time in foster care as a child, but that didn't stop her from loving.
"If life is a message then M'ya's message was to smile even when you want to cry to love even when you feel unloved and that's the message of her life and I want everyone to know that," said Miller's aunt Rhonda Rankin.
Miller had just moved back to Salisbury from Lexington to be closer to family and took a new job to take care of her son.
"Every time when I seen her, it was her and her son and they were always so happy and loving," said Truesdale. "She was always there for me. She was there for a lot of people. She didn't bother anybody."
"Her baby was her heart," Miller's grandmother Amanda said.
(M'ya and her son)
Miller's family said God has given them strength and peace through this devastating time.
"She probably didn't know he was being sent by evil forces after her," said Rankin. "He snapped and my niece happened to be in the path."
The family said rather than letting the evil act hinder them, they are walking in love because they believe that's what Miller would have done.
"I would like to tell Jeffery Hooker that I'm sure she forgives you. I'm sure she would," said Rankin.
Chopper 9 Skyzoom was overhead moments after the deadly shooting and could see investigators canvassing the scene.
About four hours after the shooting, Mike Kirksey was driving near Victory Street when he said heard gunfire.
"I had my two pets in the back two dogs and then all of sudden my window started to shatter," said Kirksey.
He said he rushed to a friend's house, where they both witnessed what they believe to be Hooker firing more shots from a white car. They then called 911.
(Jeffrey Wayne Hooker Jr.)
Police said they arrested Hooker Tuesday night near Victory Street and Fairmont Avenue after conducting a traffic stop.
He has been charged with murder and two counts of shooting into an occupied vehicle.
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Police said Hooker worked as a clerk at a convenience store and was well-respected in the community.
Hooker's sister told Channel 9 he has never been violent and wouldn't hurt anyone intentionally. She also gave condolences to Miller's family.
Investigators are still looking into the motive.
The shooting was Salisbury's first homicide of the year.
Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.
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