April Vancleave never had much money, her sister said, but she did what she could to help others.
There was the time she gave an elderly woman a ride home in the cold and another time when she came home with a kitten, rescuing it from an area near a gas tank by her parents’ home in East Texas.
And she always tried to provide for her 6-year-old daughter, Lilly, raising her as a single mother until this year.
So when Vancleave, 33, told her family last week that she planned to sell jewelry to buy the little girl a Christmas present, they understood.
Vancleave arranged the sale online but was cautious, agreeing to meet her potential buyers Thursday at the Target store on South Cooper Street in Arlington. She also went with her husband, whom she married this summer.
But when the couple arrived at the Starbucks inside, the buyers weren’t there.
Police say Vancleave and her husband drove back to their apartment complex about a mile away. The husband dropped Vancleave off and headed back to work.
Then, witnesses told police, robbers approached Vancleave and shot her.
Vancleave, wounded in the stomach, was taken to Medical Center of Arlington, where she died in surgery.
By the time Vancleave’s mother, Pauline Morton, heard what happened, Vancleave had already died.
Morton was at home in Trinity, about 3 1/2 hours southeast of Arlington. Vancleave’s daughter was staying with her, and Vancleave planned to join them over the weekend. They were going to bake Christmas cookies and build gingerbread houses.
Instead, Morton’s phone rang and Vancleave’s husband delivered the news.
“I had to have him repeat it three times,” Morton said Monday night.
Police believe the potential jewelry buyers followed Vancleave and her husband from the Target store to their apartment complex, said Lt. Chris Cook, police spokesman. When Vancleave’s husband left, the buyers likely tried to rob her in the parking lot, Cook said.
The shooting happened about noon. Doctors pronounced Vancleave dead at 1:33 p.m., according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.
By that evening, police had obtained and released surveillance video, showing two persons of interest leaving Target. The men stood in front of the store and then left in a red, four-door Ford pickup truck.
No arrests had been made in the shooting by Tuesday. Morton said detectives told her son they were gathering evidence, waiting for an “ironclad” case before making an arrest.
Tuesday morning, Arlington police announced that Oak Dairy Farms is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the person or people responsible for Vancleave’s murder. The dairy company commonly offers such rewards.
‘This is a bad case’
Vancleave was doing last week what many have done without incident: arranging the sale of a personal item online.
It’s become common enough — through Craigslist and localized apps such as OfferUp and 5miles — that last year Arlington established a safe exchange zone at police headquarters, providing online buyers and sellers a secure location to complete transactions.
Other police departments have similar setups. Those were re-emphasized in October, when a Dallas woman, Martha Teran, was killed outside the busy Medieval Times restaurant while trying to sell her daughter’s iPhone through OfferUp.
But Cook said Vancleave still took proper precaution, agreeing to meet her buyers at a public place.
“This is a bad case,” Cook said last week. “She’s just trying to do the right thing by meeting the potential buyer in a well-occupied place. That’s what she did. Unfortunately, the suspects followed her home.”
We just have to go through the motions. Just make Lilly happy.
Pauline Morton, mother of April Vancleave.
In Trinity, near Huntsville, Morton and her family — which includes her husband and 11 sons and daughters — are trying to get Vancleave’s daughter through Christmas.
“We just have to go through the motions,” Morton said. “Just make Lilly happy. It’s very, very difficult. I don’t even feel like having Christmas. I don’t have anything to celebrate.”
Lilly knows her mother is gone, Morton said, but she doesn’t fully understand. Over the weekend, she asked Morton if Santa Claus could bring her back home.
“I tell her her mommy’s an angel, and she can talk to her anytime,” Morton said. “But we don’t get to see Mommy anymore. It’s very hard to tell that to a 6-year-old.”
Vancleave’s burial will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Eastern Gate Cemetery in Trinity.
Want to help?
A cousin of April Vancleave has set up a GoFundMe page for her burial expenses.