Kelly Loving was always there to lend a caring hand, lift others up and encourage them to shine and succeed, said her older sister, Tiffany Loving.
“Because that's how Kelly was. If somebody didn't feel good about their self, she always tried to make them feel confident,” she said.
So when Tiffany and those close to Loving learned she was trying to protect others when she was fatally shot during the Club Q attack in Colorado Springs, they weren’t surprised.
“I mean, her last act on this earth was to put herself between another human being and gunfire … And that's how she left,” said Ben Owen, a family friend, of how Loving reportedly shielded fellow patron Wyatt Kent.
She was buried Tuesday in her hometown of Batesville, Mississippi.
Loving, one of the five victims of the Nov. 20 shooting, died just days after her 40th birthday. She was in Denver and Colorado Springs for just a short stay, visiting from her home in Memphis, Tennessee. Loving was at the club that Saturday night to celebrate her birthday.
“If you look at her pictures, you can tell that is not a face that sits in the house, honey,” said Tiffany, laughing about how social her sister was. “Not a homebody. That's true. She liked to travel, she liked to enjoy life.”
Close-knit sisters who grew up in rural Mississippi
Loving grew up with two sisters in the small town of Batesville, in rural northwest Mississippi. Tiffany said she and Loving were close, and leaned on each other for support.
“She used to always steal my Barbies and get in trouble for it,” Tiffany recalled, laughing before turning serious. “It was really hard growing up down here, though. It was, and that's why we left.”
The sisters moved to Memphis, but Loving struggled to find a supportive community there too.
Tiffany is now hoping to raise money to help others in the trans community in Memphis, especially to make it easier for them to access addiction treatment and mental health support. On a GoFundMe Page, Tiffany said Loving struggled with substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and feelings of self-worth.
“She wasn't accepted down here and back then it was just a really hard time for her, you know, because you can't help who you are,” she told CPR News. “She was born that way. It's just so much hate in this world and negative stuff, but you can't judge people for how they are.”
But Tiffany said her sister put on a brave face and “tried to live and act like it didn't bother her. But it did.”
A woman remembered for her friendship and beauty
Friends describe Loving as someone you could trust and confide in. Janelle Roshea Grays called herself Loving’s "trans mother" and said they immediately clicked when they met 12 years ago in Houston, Texas.
“She had such determination. Anything that she wanted, she was going to try her best to go and get. And she instilled that in her friends so that they could be their best selves.”
Roshea Grays said she gave Loving advice during her transition and was happy to be a part of her growth as a trans woman. But that support worked both ways. She said Loving taught her the true definition of friendship. She described Loving as her “safe place” and said she’ll miss hearing her voice, laughter and sarcasm.
“She was so authentic, unapologetic, and so real,” she said.
“Even when I used to watch her sleep, she'd be so calm and so peaceful, and then she'd just wake up with a ball of energy just ready to take on the world. And that's really what Kelly did, she took on the world.”
Roshea Grays and others shared their memories at the Tuesday memorial service in Batesville. Loving’s casket sat at the front of the room surrounded by pink flowers. It was topped by a picture of her face framed by gold angel wings. Some of Loving’s other family attended.
Her mother, whom Loving was very close to, came from a nearby nursing home, alert but wheeled in on a stretcher. Loving’s other sister and father are deceased.
“She was special. I have never met a person that [made] me feel good about me, like the way Kelly made me feel,” said friend Icysis Dupree, who called Loving "mother" for her support and mentorship in the community.
Dupree said Loving pushed her to be the best version of herself.
“Even when she got on my nerves, it's like, I need that right now,” she said laughing.
Dupree said she wished she could have had longer with Loving.
“We all gonna have a hole for a while,” she said at the funeral. “We got to just find ways to feel it and wait the time.”
Loving’s sister Tiffany said it was important that her sister look beautiful for the visitation, given Loving’s high standards for her own hair and makeup — even flying across the country to get her hair done by her favorite stylist.
“I think she’d be proud of me,” Tiffany told Loving’s friends at the funeral home. And everyone agreed she looked beautiful.
“I hope I've done everything that you would've wanted me to do today,” she said to her sister at the service. “I hope you like your dress and flowers and everything.”
A life lived embracing others
Loving’s friends and family said it was especially heartbreaking that she died the way she did, in an act of violence, given that it was so opposite to how she lived her life — accepting everyone, and with no judgment.
“It's sad that there are people that hate others for literally no reason, because they live in their truth,” said Roshea Grays.
But she said she was trying to keep her mind on who Loving was, and the impact her life had.
“She embraced so many people from so many different walks of life and was a true people person. She never liked being alone. So, oh my God, even in death, Kelly didn't have to die alone. She had four other angels with her.”
Loving’s sister said she hopes all of the victims of Club Q eventually get justice.
“I want to hate the man that did this to you,” she said at the memorial. “But my God tells me to pray for him too. Hate is a very powerful word.”
And she has no regrets about their lives together and how they stood by each other through thick and thin.
“We never gave up. I wouldn't change nothing. I have fought my whole life for you,” she said tearfully and added. “A lot of times I wished I was as pretty as you.”
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