It was August of 2018 and summer was coming to an end in Buffalo, New York. Fall was fast approaching and 31-year-old La’Kendra Tillmon had five kids to get ready for school.
On August 2, 2018, La’Kendra decided to take two of the children out for back-to-school shopping and haircuts, according to her sister, Tanisha Tillmon.
But that afternoon, their lives changed forever.
Tanisha was at work when she received a flurry of calls and texts.
“It was strange because some of the calls were from people I don’t talk to every day and I started to get nervous,” Tanisha said. “Something wasn’t right. So I started calling everyone back. They told me Kay, that's what we called her, had been in a car accident. And that she had been shot. No one really knew what was happening.”
According to Buffalo Police, La’Kendra was driving down Butler Avenue around 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, August 2, two unidentified men got out of a car and opened fire. La’Kendra was gunned down inside the car, causing her to crash into a tree.
La’Kendra was transported to Erie County Medical Center, where she died.
A man who her family described as her boyfriend, was in the passenger seat, his son and La’Kendra’s two children, were in the backseat. They were not injured.
Tanisha rushed to the hospital where she was told the heartbreaking news. She said Buffalo Police told her La’Kendra had been shot while she was driving, which caused her to crash.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Tanisha said. “But it was also really traumatic for her children. When they ask about their mother, sometimes I don't know what to tell them."
La’Kendra’s oldest daughter, Nevaeh Tillmon, who is now 16 years old, talked to NBC affiliate WGRZ about dealing with the loss of her mother.
“It's hard because I have to go through stuff that I'd go through my mom with, and I can't do that,” Nevaeh said. “And I'm like a kid still, and I have to go through my whole life without her, and it hurts me a lot.”
After La’Kendra’s death, her five children went to live with Tanisha, who already has two children of her own.
“I don't know how I was going to do it, but I knew I had to make it work. It’s what we do for family,” Tanisha said. “And we talk about Kay all the time. She’s always on our mind. Always.” Kay is the family’s nickname for La’Kendra.
La’Kendra’s aunt, Cyndi Elser, told Dateline she received the call about her niece on August 2, which is also her wedding anniversary.
“I was getting multiple calls back-to-back and I just thought it was the kids calling to tell me happy anniversary,” Cyndi said. “I never expected this. It was — still is — a nightmare.”
Cyndi told Dateline that her niece went through some tough times in her life, but everything was just starting to come together when she was shot.
Cyndi’s sister — La’Kendra and Tanisha’s mother — died in May of 2015 from Multiple Sclerosis.
“It was heartbreaking for everyone,” Cyndi said. “And it forced La’Kendra to really step up as a mother to her children and get her life together.”
She said La’Kendra worked hard to get her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate and eventually landed a job as a CNA.
"She loved that job so much. You would've though she was head nurse," Tanisha remembered. "One of her patients had MS — which is what our mother died from — so she felt like she was needed. Like she was meant to do this."
Just weeks later, La'Kendra was gunned down in broad daylight.
“I was so proud of that girl,” Cyndi said. "For all she did and for coming together for those kids, even though it was only for a short time."
She described her niece, who called her Auntie Cyndi" as being beautiful and strong and was always making people laugh.
“She was so comical — and when she laughed, it was contagious, you couldn’t help but laugh, too,” Cyndi said. “And someone took all of that away from us.”
Two years have passed since La’Kendra’s death, but no one has been charged.
“There are just so many unanswered questions,” Cyndi said. “We just want justice for Kay. Justice for Kay's children.”
Buffalo Police detectives said they are still looking for the person who killed La’Kendra and urge anyone who may have seen something to call police.
"Our homicide squad is always working aggressively. We never forget these cases," Buffalo Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said at a press conference in August 2019. "We are asking anyone who has any information — and we know that there are people out there that know information — we would like for them to share it with us."
Tanisha told Dateline she dreams of the day they get justice for La'Kendra.
"I used to daydream, and often still do, during the first year, the second year and now going into the third, that a detective will call or walk up to us at Kay's balloon release, and give us the news we've been waiting on," Tanisha said. "The news that someone has been arrested in her murder."
Each year since La’Kendra’s death, her loved ones gather together wearing shirts with the letters “JFK,” which stands for “Justice for Kay.” They release balloons in her honor with a simple but powerful message, “No justice, no peace.”
“It’s frustrating to not have any answers. And to not know why someone would want to do this to her,” Tanisha said. “We just want someone to take accountability for their actions and come forward.”
Tanisha told Dateline her biggest fear is that her sister will be forgotten.
"It's what scares me the most," Tanisha said. "Our family feels like she's already been forgotten. She may not be anything to them [the police], but she was everything to us."
Buffalo Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of $4,000 to anyone with information that leads to the person or people responsible for La’Kendra’s death.
Anyone with information is asked to call Buffalo Crime Stoppers at (716) 867-6161 or the Buffalo Police Confidential Tipline at (716) 847-2255.