Younger sister remembers Ma'Khia Bryant: 'She wanted to grow up and be great'

Ja'Niah Bryant said she called 911 the day of the fatal shooting.

May 9, 2021, 5:05 AM

Ja'Niah Bryant lost her best friend on April 20 when her older sister was fatally shot by a police officer outside their foster home in Columbus, Ohio.

In an exclusive TV interview with ABC News' Eva Pilgrim for "Good Morning America," Ja'Niah described 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant as her "other half."

"We did everything together," Ja'Niah, 15, said.

The shooting of the Black teenage girl by a white police officer, which occurred about an hour before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder in the May 2020 death of George Floyd, sparked protests in the neighborhood and left her family calling for a federal investigation. A little over a week after Ma'Khia's death, city leaders said they requested a Department of Justice investigation following a series of police killings of Black people in Columbus.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is already reviewing the actions of the officer.

Body camera footage from the incident showed Ma'Khia with a knife lunging toward a young woman before the officer yelled "Get down!" and shot her four times.

Ja'Niah told "GMA" she called 911 the day of the shooting. In a recording of the 911 call obtained by ABC News, she can be heard urging police to "get here now," over screaming in the background, because there were "grown girls over here trying to fight us, trying to stab us."

It was the second call for help Ja'Niah made in less than a month. On March 28, she told police officers who responded to the residence that she wanted to be placed in a different foster home after an argument with her sister, according to a police report obtained by ABC News.

Ja'Niah described the situation at the foster home as "complex."

"I wanted to leave. She wanted to leave, too. But my biggest fear was us being split up again," said Ja'Niah, who had previously been placed in separate foster care from her sister before they were reunited several months ago.

The foster home "did the best they could with what they had available," Bryant family attorney Michelle Martin told "GMA."

Ja'Niah Bryant and Ma'Khia Bryant are seen in an undated family photo.
Bryant Family

According to Martin, things escalated on the day of the shooting when a young woman who used to live at the foster home asked the sisters to clean up after a party the night before.

As they were cleaning, Martin alleges the woman "escalated to threatening behavior, in an effort to, you know, quote-unquote discipline them and tell them what to do."

The sisters "felt unsafe and began to be attacked," she said. They called their grandmother and also their foster mother, Angela Moore, who was at work at the time -- and, eventually, 911, Martin said. "GMA" has reached out to Moore for comment.

Ja'Niah believes Ma'Kiah was trying to protect them during the ensuing altercation.

"She was being a bigger sister," said Ja'Niah. "She was trying to protect herself."

Ja'Niah said she is now living with her grandmother, which was what she had hoped for her and her sister all along.

Ja'Niah Bryant releases butterflies into the air during funeral of her sister Ma'Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, April 30, 2021.
Stephen Zenner/AFP via Getty Images

Martin contends that the foster care system failed to protect the sisters and provide enough support to keep the family together or the siblings in a kinship placement.

"If your family needs assistance, we should have been able to support them as a community," Martin said. "I think that we're missing the bigger picture and that they were victims of our failing system."

"Franklin County Children Services is committed to the thorough review of Ma’Khia Bryant’s case," the agency said in a statement, noting that it could not provide case-specific information. "We are continuing our process of review and evaluation, as we consistently strive to improve our efforts to address the needs of those we serve."

Ja'Niah hopes people don't judge her sister from what they see of the body camera footage. She remembers her sister as a good person who loved her family, dance battles, singing, applying makeup and styling her hair. She wanted to grow up to be successful, Ja'Niah said, with a house, car and good job. An animal-lover, she wanted to be a veterinarian.

"She just wanted to be great," Ja'Niah said. "She wanted to grow up and be great."