Even as a little girl, 17-year-old Armani Johnson had her life mapped out.
"It may sound weird, but I’ve been dreaming of being a dentist ever since I was 6," she told a girl empowerment project in 2016. She planned to attend the University of Kansas, where her mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City had gone.
Those plans to become a dentist were tragically shattered early Monday when the Raytown High School senior was shot from behind while fleeing the shooting rampage of her first cousin, Billy Hunter Jr., at her home in the 7900 bock of East 48th Street. Before killing Johnson, Hunter shot to death Alisha Brooks, the mother of his 4-year-old child.
Hunter was soon after shot to death by Kansas City police as he exchanged gunfire with officers.
"I’m lost, I am," Simone Hill, cousin of Johnson and Hunter, said Tuesday. "I don’t know how to feel at this point. I lost a whole lot. Those are my cousins. "
Family members continue to search for answers as to what set off Hunter, who they described as a loving, family-oriented man who organized Sunday dinners for an array of relatives.
Police have not released the names of the victims but relatives identified them to The Star.
In 2016, Johnson was awarded a $1,500 grant from the 1,000 Dreams Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based group that provides micro-grants to young women in support of their educational or professional goals.
"The news of Armani Johnson is devastating,” said Christie Garton, the group's CEO. “This news personally saddens me as she was a bright young woman with an especially bright future. Her dream of attending the University of Kansas to study dentistry was inspiring and we were thrilled to be able to support her."
Johnson was one of five young women from Kansas City who received the grant as part of the organization’s inaugural Girls on the Rise program, which provides money for college visits and other related college-bound expenses for high school girls.
Johnson was recommended for the Washington-based grant by the local Big Brothers Big Sisters foundation which had recognized her potential: "We selected Armani as a Girl on the Rise and connected her with 1,000 Dreams because of her ambition and positivity. Her Big Sister has been a long term, steady, and positive influence for years," a Big Brothers Big Sisters spokesperson said in a statement.
"On behalf of everyone at the 1,000 Dreams Fund, we extend our deepest condolences to all of her loved ones,” Garton said.
An interview of Johnson was featured on the group's website. Johnson discussed her plans to attend college and how receiving the grant from the 1,000 Dreams Fund was essential to her future plans to become a dentist.
"I don’t know what attracted me to the profession but there’s just always been something about it that made me think, 'I want to do this! This is what I want to do with life.' " Johnson said in the interview. "A lot of people are like, 'Will you work on my teeth?' or they say, 'If I were you, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be in someone else’s mouth.' But I don’t mind."
Johnson described herself as an emotional person.
"So I get really stressed out sometimes," she said. "That probably won’t make medical school easy! But I’ll do whatever it takes."
On Tuesday, her cousin said the family is saddened that Johnson's goals and dreams had been senselessly ended.
"We were planning a graduation party but now we are planning a funeral and it's sad," Hill said. "It's very sad and unfortunate."
Hill said the family is still trying to piece together what happened and make sense of the ordeal.
Hunter went to his aunt's house at 48th Street and Sycamore Avenue, where Johnson and her mother lived, to chat. The deaths in recent years of his brother, mother and cousin had taken a toll on his emotions, Hill said on Tuesday.
During the course of the night, Hunter became paranoid and began to act strange. His aunt asked him to leave; when he refused, the aunt called Hunter's father to come over to help.
Alisha Brooks accompanied the father because of their past relationship, she said.
"He had to be suffering from sometime of depression or something," Hill said about Hunter. "I don’t know what made him flip that night. I don’t know. Nobody knows but him and God why he did that."
While Brooks and Hunter's father were there, Hunter's behavior became more erratic, Hill said. He retreated to the basement where he flipped off the circuit breaker then Brooks went downstairs to talk to him. That's when he shot her.
Johnson, her mother and Hunter's father fled. Hunter shot Johnson outside the house and he fled, Hill said.
Officers responded about 2:30 a.m. Monday to the corner house on reports of shots fired.
While setting up a perimeter around the house, officers spotted Johnson's body outside, police said. A short time later, Hunter drove back to the house and fired a weapon at officers.
The officers returned fire, killing Hunter, police said. Police then noticed smoke coming from the house and saw flames. Firefighters responded and put out the blaze.
While searching the house, Alisha Brooks' body was found inside.
"Why he did that to Armani, I don’t know. He loved Armani," Hill said. "I don’t know what made him flip that night, we will never know."