To see her life unfold, you would have thought tragedy was stalking Cyhneil Smith.
She'd lost a baby at birth. Her sister was murdered. And she struggled to hold a job. Somehow, through it all, she'd persevered until tragedy found her again early Friday morning in the District.
Smith, 23, was fatally shot in the 300 block of 37th Street SE. Metropolitan Police were called to the scene after 3:15 a.m. She leaves behind a young son.
Brandi Forte was Smith's mentor at the Amala Lives Institute, a vocational school for young adults looking for a second chance. She says that's all Smith wanted when they met a few years ago.
"We took a chance on her," Forte said. "She took a chance on us, and she was focused from that point on. She was dedicated and this was her way out."
Smith took her final exam with her son by her side because she couldn’t find a sitter. Her story was the focal point in a 2018 Washington Post feature on the Amala Lives Institute, a glowing example of the school's success.
"When I looked at this picture this morning [from the newspaper], I thought, God, she had so much potential," Forte said.
By 2018, Smith was doing what she loved, working toward a job in hospitality.
"She was tired, but once she realized there was something out there for her, she held on to it," Forte said.
Smith is the 160th homicide victim this year in the District, where homicides are up 17% compared to last year. Police have not released any information on a suspect or possible motive in her death.
"It was heart wrenching," Forte said. "It made me feel like, you know, is the work in vain?"
Smith's success, albeit short-lived, proves that it's not, but sadly, her victories are overshadowed by her loss.