WMU student shot and killed was still rooting for others, says Kalamazoo cheer coach

WMU student shot and killed was still rooting for others, says Kalamazoo cheer coach

KALAMAZOO, MI – Naya Reynolds was a leader and full of ideas, eager to make a difference.

Reynolds, 22, of Kalamazoo, was shot and killed Friday, Aug. 26, on the westbound Oakland Drive entrance ramp to I-94. She was a student at Western Michigan University where she studied criminal justice and sociology.

“She was just a ball of energy who just loved people and was always rooting for someone else,” said Deveta Gardner, Reynolds’ cheerleading coach and mentor. “She had a smile that could light up a room.”

At the scene, a 42-year-old Kalamazoo man was arrested on unrelated warrants as he tried to leave by getting into a passing vehicle, police said earlier. The man is Reynolds’ father, Portage Public Safety Director Nicholas Armold said.

Related: 5 people killed in 5 days in Kalamazoo County. Here’s where the cases stand

Another woman was shot and is still in stable condition, Portage police said. She is pregnant and her unborn child was not harmed. An 18-month-old baby, whose condition is stable, was also shot. Mother and baby are expected to recover.

Reynolds couldn’t wait to follow in her older sister’s footsteps as a cheerleader for one of Gardner’s teams. As a girl, Reynolds started cheering for the Northside Rocket soccer league.

She then cheered for Kalamazoo Central High School, also under Gardner.

Related: Suspect knew at least one victim in I-94 on-ramp triple shooting, police say

Reynolds loved cheerleading and always had ideas to improve the routine, Gardner said, including watching YouTube videos to learn more.

“We had a special relationship that, even though Naya has been in college all this time, is still there,” Gardner said.

Reynolds also believed in God and the power of prayer.

“I remember when she told me she wanted to be baptized and it was one of the proudest days of her life,” Gardner said. “For a young person to be in that space is so powerful.”

She never really met a stranger, Gardner said. After meeting a person once, she would hug them a second time and the person was no longer a stranger.

“Her heart was in the right place,” Gardner said. “She was always thinking and inclined to make good decisions, at least from my perspective. She was obviously a kid, you know, but she was fun.”

Police believe people in the community have information about Reynolds’ death that can help solve the case, Public Safety Director Armold told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette. Anyone with information is asked to call Silent Observer anonymously at 269-343-2100 or go online to www.kalamazoosilentobserver.com.

“The I-94 case, we’re going to keep working on it until we get it resolved; we will make an arrest,” said Armold. “Because there is someone out there in our communities who clearly has the ability to shoot and kill women and children. It’s just completely unacceptable.”

Gardner hopes Reynolds’ legacy will live on through the people who knew and loved her.

“I hope that even though some people didn’t meet her personally, the lives of the individuals she influenced and knew will share and show what kind of person she was,” Gardner said. “She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.”

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