"Kayla was a 17 year old. She had just graduated from high school a year early," described Roxanne Thornton, Kayla's mother.
"In that last year of her life, she had found her passion for working with children with special needs," Thornton said.
Kayla had planned out the next chapter in her life. There was volunteer work, community college, and every Friday she'd be with her special needs kids at Memorial High School.
"She just loved them," Thornton said. "She was so super passionate about about them. She was really on top of the world."
Kayla graduated on May 25, 2012. She celebrated at her grandmother's house the next day, but that night her boyfriend borrowed a car to take her home.
"It was the car that Kayla's killer identified as being somebody else's vehicle," Thornton said. "[He] turned around, got behind them and started shooting."
That shooting took place right outside their home.
"I heard the shots. I was home with my son at the time," Thornton said. "I was able to sit with her. I thought I was stopping the bleeding, but I didn't realize she had been shot through the back. I told her I was there. I prayed with her. I just asked her to hold on."
Kayla made it to the hospital, but she had lost too much blood. She left this world on May 27, just two days after her graduation picture with her cap and gown was taken.
"It took another two months to find her killer and a couple more years before he was convicted," Thornton said.
Thornton said her life was forever changed. But fortunately, she found help in the strength and serenity group. It's one of several groups offered by Mental Health Association Oklahoma.
Thornton committed to three meetings.
"It was rough the first time to sit down and tell a room full of strangers Kayla's story," Thornton said.
But the group turned out to be a good fit, and that's very important, according to Dr. Rebecca Hubbard, director of outreach, prevention and education at Mental Health Association Oklahoma.
Hubbard said you don't want to feel awkward. That's why there are people ready and willing to talk about your issues and find just the right group.
"We have our screeners and they are the sweetest women," Hubbard said. "That's one of the big reasons we do the screenings so that we can talk to them, get to know them to make sure we're setting them up with the right group for them."
"Those other folks speak the same kind of language and have some tips and tricks," Thornton said. "And I can share mine."
Thornton says the strength and serenity group saved her life. She encourages anyone feeling stress, depression, or suffering the loss of a love one to make the call and join a group.
"It's a great group of people, I wish I didn't know any of them," she said. "I wish we had no reason to know each other, but I can't image my life without them."
Stay in touch with us anytime, anywhere.
Sign up for newsletters emailed to your inbox. Select from these options: Breaking News, Severe Weather, School Closings, Daily Headlines and Daily Forecasts.