'My baby girl': Woman fatally shot by ex-employee after picking up extra Dollar Tree shift

 INDIANAPOLIS − Jasmine Bennett wasn't supposed to go to work Monday but went in anyway to cover a shift. She was supposed to be on vacation, preparing for a family trip to Nashville next week. She was trying to figure out if there were any places to visit that had sloths, her favorite animal.

She loved working at the Dollar Tree, and she was training to be a manager. She and her coworkers had fun decorating the Indianapolis store on Pendleton Pike with stuffed animals and playing light-hearted pranks on each other. Her regulars remembered her demeanor and smile.

That afternoon, a former employee came into the store and shot her four times, including once in the head, after he initiated an argument with her. Bennett, 25, died from her injuries later that day at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Jasmine Bennett poses with Boomer, the Pacers' mascot.

Jalen Thomas, 21, was arrested on suspicion of murder charge shortly after. According to the probable cause affidavit for his arrest, Thomas bought a handgun after she refused to process a return for him a few weeks ago after he no longer worked for the store. Witnesses said Thomas was fired. He told police he quit.

Previously from IndyStar:Female employee shot at Dollar Tree store in Lawrence dies from injuries

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A 'bright light' and a 'hard worker'

"She was more than just a Dollar Tree worker," Bennett's aunt Sara Lett said.

Around 2 p.m. Monday, Lett got the call that Bennett wasn't going to make it, so she got into the car for a 13-hour drive from South Carolina − one full of tears and attempts to keep herself together. When she got into the city early Tuesday morning, she found out Bennett's mother, Dina Ford, had been sitting at the store by herself.

A portrait of Jasmine Bennett

Ford didn't deviate from her schedule Tuesday morning. She got up at 6 a.m., left the house she lived in with her daughter, got her coffee and sat outside the store watching reporters film news clips about her "best friend." She stayed there until a manager told her she needed to leave to eat because she had not had a meal since the day before.

"I just didn't want anything," she said. "I just want my baby. That was my baby girl."

About a dozen family members gathered to talk about Bennett on Tuesday afternoon. They all repeated the same characteristics about "Jazzy;" she was a "bright light," a "hard worker" and the "baby" of the family. She worked several jobs, including as an event worker at venues downtown. She was the youngest of six, many of whom last saw her a few weeks ago at a family game night.

Jasmine Bennett, center, poses with her family during a game night.

Her sister Krystal Caldwell said she doesn't know where to start healing. When their grandfather died last year, Bennett was the person they leaned on.

"She's the last person that you think it would happen to," she said. "She's just a thoughtful, nice, genuinely nice person."

Jasmine Bennett poses for a photo.

Diana Jacobs, another aunt of Bennett's, said she was like the glue in their family, always checking in and doing favors. She called Bennett, her "Fave," a nickname they referred to each other as. She said they always went on adventures together like going to concerts, the park and the Musical Swings nearby. Bennett was excited because the city was reopening the Lawrence library, and Jacobs said she was planning to go often.

"When she was in a bad mood, she had a smile for you," she said. "She was just the happiest, happiest girl."

Jacobs mentioned how she loved every holiday and knew exactly what gifts to get someone to make their day. It wasn't just Christmas and birthdays either, she said, because she has gotten a present on St. Patrick's Day before. When Jacobs mentioned her abilities, smiles lit up across a few of her relatives' tear-streaked faces as they talked about her gift-giving knack.

Several also talked about her love to dance and the bubbly personality she showed on TikTok.

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Healing and seeking justice

The family is trying to heal while demanding justice for Bennett. Lett said every family member will be present at every one of Thomas' court hearings.

Ford said it's hard to live, hard to breathe, knowing what happened to her daughter. Bennett's bedroom door at home is now locked. Everyone knew she was special, she said, and what happened to her was heartless and debilitating.

A collage of photos of Jasmine Bennett sits on a car May 9 at Lawrence Community Park.

The family is holding a vigil and balloon release Friday at the Dollar Tree where Bennett was shot. Ford hopes the store may eventually be dedicated in her honor.

"I just want people to remember my baby," Ford said through tears.

Contact IndyStar Pulliam Fellow Cate Charron at ccharron@indystar.com or follow her on Twitter @catecharron.

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