Sunni Reza, 8, was almost trilingual. She spoke English and Spanish and was learning Zuni, a language from the Pueblo Native Americans that was spoken in her home in New Mexico.
Sunni, talkative and respectful, approached both her peers and elders often speaking in Spanish and saying, “Hi, my name is Sunni. How are you?” Last year when she received a stuffed teddy bear as a present from her grandmother she referred to it as “nana,” meaning “grandfather” in Zuni. She and her grandfather, who died in 2009, had been close.
Sunni, nicknamed “Sunshine,” was born and raised in Albuquerque, N.M., and had recently moved three hours away to Hagerman. When she visited her aunt and grandmother last year, she carried a glittery purse with lipstick inside; this year she wore a cowboy hat and boots and wanted to practice basketball.
She dreamed of becoming a police officer, teacher, or firefighter because her father was severely burned in a house fire when he was a child.
“That inspired her to want to help people. She was a humble little girl,” her aunt, Wendy Fontenelle, told msnbc. “She may have only been 8, but she always put people before her.” “She was 8 going on 20,” added her grandmother, Antoinette Fontenelle.
Sunni planned to celebrate her birthday this year at Chuck E. Cheese’s–as she did every year. When her family questioned her choice and offered alternatives, she replied: “I don’t care. I’m going to Chuck E. Cheese’s even when I turn 21.”
Sunni was struck by a bullet while riding in a car near a community center in Albuquerque on May 31, two days before her ninth birthday. Police arrested two men in connection with the shooting.