Recent West Catholic Prep graduate among the dead in Orlando

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Akyra Murray, 18, just graduated last week from Philadelphia's West Catholic Prep. She was one of 49 killed in this weekend's Orlando, Fla., club shooting.

Last month, Akyra Murray signed a national letter of intent to attend Mercyhurst University on a full-ride scholarship for basketball, a sport she once doubted she was good enough to play.

Omar Mateen had other intentions for the recent West Catholic Prep graduate.

Murray's name was added Monday to the list of victims that Mateen shot and killed early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where she was celebrating her graduation.

After Mateen opened fire, Murray, 18, called and texted her parents as she bled. She screamed for them to come get her, but died along with 48 others.

"She just graduated last week," her father, Albert, said by phone from Orlando. "She was kind, helpful. She helped everybody."

Murray was a quiet force at West Catholic, where she transferred at the beginning of her junior year. She built herself into a 1,000-point basketball star with daily workouts, silencing her freshman critics and paving the way to a free college education.

"She worked hard," said Aaron Spence, a former school administrator and member of the alumni association's board of governors. "If you watched her play, you knew she was putting her all into her game. She was just tenacious."

Spence ran into Murray in the school's courtyard at graduation on June 6. "On the way out, I gave her a hug and wished her well," he said. "That was the last time I saw her."

Natalie Murray told the Associated Press that she was on the phone with her wounded daughter as she cowered in a bathroom stall, hiding from the shooter. Akyra sent a text message at 2 a.m. Sunday pleading for her parents to pick her up from the nightclub because there had been a shooting.

"I just tried to tell her to remain calm and apply pressure to the wound," the mother told the AP. "All I could hear was my baby screaming."

Moments later, Akyra called her mother, saying she was losing a lot of blood.

Spence said the teenager "just embodied everything good about her community. I'm very proud of her and her accomplishments, and was really excited to see what she was going to do in her college career."

West Catholic principal Jim Gallagher said Murray carried herself with "great character and dignity."

"She was a standout athlete, yet treated all members of the school community in the same way," he said.

Gallagher said Murray was ranked third academically in her class of 45 students.

"She was a steady scholar who didn't ease up even though she was a senior," he added.

Gallagher recalled an interaction this year between Murray and a new theology teacher who was having trouble with his class. Murray popped into the teacher's empty classroom to offer him encouragement.

"She just went in to reassure him he was part of the family here," Gallagher said, marveling at the moment. "That's very unusual for a high school senior to do."

Himself a newcomer to the school, Gallagher said Murray had gone out of her way to welcome him when the academic year began.

"She made me feel I belonged here," he said.

Gallagher said that in basketball, Murray was naturally a forward, but that she learned and took over the point guard position after the starting guard was injured and had to sit out the season.

"Akyra was sacrificing her own game to help the team win," Gallagher said. "It's an example of her approach to her entire life. She did whatever she needed to help people."

Last month, West Catholic announced on its website that the Lady Burrs star had signed a letter of intent to attend Mercyhurst, in Erie, and was on a "journey that was once only a dream," the school wrote.

Monday afternoon, the school confirmed that she was among the dead in the country's worst mass shooting, writing that "our hearts are broken."

"She always had energy," said former classmate Demond Brunache, who played wide receiver and linebacker for West Catholic's football team. "There was never a day when she was sad. Even when she was down, she was happy in a way."

Incredulous that Murray could be dead just days after she had walked across the stage at West Catholic, school vice president Paul Colistra described the young woman as "a shining example of a West Catholic Prep graduate."

Gallagher said that basketball coach Beulah Osueke was especially broken up about Murray's death. She spent much of Monday meeting with the team members in school, then took them out to eat in the afternoon to continue the conversation.

Grief counselors will be available at the school this week, and a vigil for Murray is being planned for Wednesday evening, the school announced on its website.

On his Facebook page Monday afternoon, Murray's father, described his daughter as "one of the greatest inspirations in my life," and called on the country to "get back to loving, caring, and appreciating each other again."

"I know she is in a safer place than America," he wrote. "... You can't even go on vacation."

benderw@phillynews.com

215-854-5255@wbender99