Too Young to Die: Payton Benson

Photo Courtesy of Tabatha Manning

Payton Benson always wanted to know she was beautiful.

“She would pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘Mommy, do you like my dress?’ I would say, ‘Yes, you’re beautiful.’ That was a daily thing,” her mother, Tabatha Manning, told msnbc.

In an Omaha, Neb., household surrounded by three brothers, Payton, 5, wanted to be as beautiful as the women role models in her life. At the end of each day, she changed her wardrobe to look like a “mother.” She put on makeup and washed her Barbie dolls in the bathtub before attempting to style their hair with gel. Manning caught Payton applying makeup to her younger brother’s face, who was three years old at the time. When she wasn’t playing dress-up with him, though, she challenged him to Xbox games, watched television, and raced him with toy cars. “She took the time out to do what he wanted to do, and they were really best friends,” Manning said.

Payton loaded a backpack with clothes in the morning before leaving the house for daycare, in mental preparation of starting kindergarten this fall. She tried to sneak a jar of peanut butter into her bag on more than one occasion.

She enjoyed spending time with her brothers, and often played with them in the dirt - while wearing a dress. Payton’s mother once responded to her screams to find she had pinned an older brother to the ground in retaliation for taking one of her toys. “She could stick up for herself,” Manning said.

A caring child, Payton generously offered hugs and kisses to her family members. She was the quiet sibling who only cried when her mother raised her voice, including when she attempted to clean dishes in the sink by herself but instead allowed water to flow onto the floor. “She didn’t know,” her mother added, “that when you’re angry at her, you still love her.”

Payton was killed by a stray bullet while eating breakfast inside her Omaha home on Jan. 15, 2014. Police have arrested four people in connection to the murder.

More children’s stories>

Too Young to Die

Too Young to Die: Payton Benson