Cousin of victim in Morgan County shooting remembers her smile and laugh as she mourns

Emily Payne, 21, was one of seven people who were shot and killed late Thursday night in the Valhermoso Springs community.

Posted: Jun 5, 2020 10:54 PM
Updated: Jun 8, 2020 9:22 AM

Whitney McPeters was spending the week in Panama City, Florida, with some of her family. She was on the last day of her vacation on Friday when she received a horrible phone call. 

"It's like your whole body goes weak. I remember my legs just suddenly felt like jello," McPeters said. 

Emily Brooke Payne, 21, was one of seven people who were shot and killed late Thursday night in Valhermoso Springs in Morgan County. (Courtesy: Whitney McPeters) Emily Brooke Payne, 21, was one of seven people who were shot and killed late Thursday night in Valhermoso Springs in Morgan County. (Courtesy: Whitney McPeters)

The call was to inform her and her family that her cousin, Emily Brooke Payne, was one of seven people who was shot and killed Thursday night. Payne had just celebrated her 21st birthday on Tuesday.

"To be the kind of person who could go into a house and look seven people in the face and do what whoever or multiple whoevers did to these people, what kind of person could you be?" McPeters said.

She remembered her cousin as being a bright and kind person with whom McPeters spent much of her childhood.

"She was a very bubbly girl. She was always smiling, she was always happy and joking around and cutting up with everyone," McPeters said.

McPeters described Payne as someone who was also very trusting of people. She wondered if that trust may have led her into what happened Thursday night.

"As young as she was and so trusting of everybody, I guess she just didn't really realize that something like this could be a possibility, you know? She trusted everyone she came into contact with. She was good to everybody. She loved everybody. I don't think I really know anyone personally that has anything bad to say about her," said McPeters.

That was part of what made the news so difficult. Many of those who were killed Thursday night had lives that overlapped with one another. McPeters said she, Emily and some other family members spent summers together with the children of another one of the victims, Tammy England Muzzey, 45.

McPeters said Muzzey owned the house where the shooting took place.

"We all went to school together," McPeters said. "Emily and Tammy's daughters, they were some of each other's best friends growing up and even into adulthood. They all stayed very close."

Shortly before 11 p.m. Friday night, a GoFundMe account to help with funeral expenses for Payne reached nearly $1,400. 

McPeters said the support comes from the closeness of the community, adding that the impact of losing those seven lives reverberates to everyone in Valhermoso Springs.

"Every other house here, someone's more than likely related, about every other house down this street. I mean, that's how tiny of a town it is. There are no strangers. We've all known each other our entire lives. We've all grown up together. Some of the elders in the town here have watched us grow up and now is watching our children grow up," McPeters said.

The FBI and the Morgan County Sheriff's Office continued to work the investigation late into Friday night. So far, they have not released much information about who they may suspect is behind the shooting, but said that person or persons may be out of town or state at this point. 

McPeters said she can't imagine anyone in their community harming so many people in such a horrific way.

"That's why it's so hard to imagine that it's happened, because I can't think of anyone around here that would want to hurt so many people in our town like that," said McPeters.

If you would like to donate to the GoFundMe for Emily Payne, click here.

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