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Associated Press, Published September 13 2012

Teacher: Sioux Falls shooting victim fun-loving, hard-working

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A 24-year-old woman who was fatally shot in front of the Sioux Falls hair salon she managed while trying to protect an employee from what police say was an abusive boyfriend was hard-working and loved having fun, her former teacher and coach said.

Ken Kvaale, a teacher in Ellsworth, Minn., told KELO-TV Wednesday that Amanda Connors was a joy to have in the classroom. He said Connors and his daughter Rachel were best friends in school and in the years since Connors' 2007 graduation.

"Amanda was just like she was in athletics. She was just a sparkplug in the classroom, too, there with the answer," Kvaale said. "She was an 'A' student for me."

According to police, Connors was leaving Cost Cutters on Tuesday when she saw Tyrone Smith, 38, with his children in the parking lot. From her car, she phoned the four employees in the store, including Smith's girlfriend, and then pulled her car up and exchanged words with Smith, who was standing in the salon doorway. Authorities say Smith then shot Conners in the head, causing her car to drive into a parked SUV, and then entered the store, fired another shot and zip-tied his girlfriend and the other workers. They say Smith let the four workers go a half-hour later, and then shot himself in the head.

Connors graduated from the Stewart School of Hairstyling four years ago with a promising career ahead, said senior instructor Penny Thompson.

Thompson said Connors was a woman of integrity with a positive, upbeat and hard-working attitude.

"She just had such a great smile, and you saw it a lot," she said.

When Thompson heard about the incident at Cost Cutters, she had a feeling that it was Connors who stood up to the gunman.

"I don't know what courage Amanda had to face at that moment. And until you're in that moment, who knows what you can do?" Thompson said. "But once again she did everything right, just like she's always done."

The escalation between Smith and his live-in girlfriend began Sunday evening when Smith was arrested on a domestic assault charge. He walked out of jail Monday, and the girlfriend was granted a temporary protection order.

Just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Smith barged into the babysitter's house, grabbed the children, zip-tied the woman to a chair and removed her cellphone's battery.

"He said, 'I want my kids,'" Becky Erickson told the Argus Leader newspaper. "I said, 'I'm not sure I can let them go with you.' His hand came up with a handgun in it. He said, 'Are you really going to argue with me?'"

Four minutes after receiving a call about the abduction, police learned of a car accident in the salon parking lot. When officers arrived, they found the crashed car and bystanders attending to Connors, who was bleeding.

After the employees and children were let go, a SWAT team surrounded the salon and closed off three blocks on Sioux Falls' busiest street. Just before 4 p.m., officers stormed in and found Smith's body.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.