Zaiylah Bronson had just gotten off work after a long shift Thursday at Citi Trends, a clothing store in Wichita.
Worn out, she still made time to call her mom, Taronza Bronson, back in Leavenworth.
“It was a little after 9 p.m. and she was telling me how tired she was,” Bronson said. “I try to call her at least every two days because I don’t go two days without hearing her voice.”
Bronson said her daughter recently found out she was pregnant. She was currently at 16½ weeks and was expecting a boy.
“She was excited,” Taronza said. “They had picked a name and she would not tell me what the baby name is because she wanted it to be a surprise.”
The conversation ended when Zaiylah told her mother she was heading to her boyfriend Alexander Lewis’ home.
Two days later, Bronson was at a beauty store on Saturday with her other two kids and a friend from church when she received a phone call from her husband.
“I just dropped my purse, screaming, on the floor,” Bronson said. “I literally almost had to be picked up and walked out the door.”
Almost three hours away in north Wichita, police officers had found Zaiylah in the trunk of Lewis’ car outside his apartment.
She had been strangled.
Her boyfriend, 22-year-old Alexander Lewis of Wichita, was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of second-degree murder, online jail records show. He was still there Tuesday afternoon.
Who is Zaiylah Bronson?
The 19-year-old was born at Fort Campbell, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, as the daughter of two U.S. Army veterans. The family spent time in Germany and Florida and has been at Fort Leavenworth since Zaiylah was in the fourth grade.
Bronson said she left the military a month before her daughter’s birth.
Zaiylah excelled in academics and sports during her time at Lansing High School in Leavenworth. She was a current student at Wichita State.
She ran track and was on the power lifting team. The Kansas state high school track and field meet was held at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium, and would be pivotal for her relocating to Wichita, her mother said.
“She fell in love with the campus,” Bronson said. “She was just adamant on Wichita even though nothing or no one (she knew) was there.”
Zaiylah graduated early from Lansing High at 17 and started at Wichita State in 2021. A straight A-student, she was working toward becoming a math teacher.
“She loved, she loved kids,” Bronson said. “She was in math competitions in high school.”
Just as she was resilient and independent, Zaiylah was also caring and giving, her mother said.
“She was a helper with an open heart,” Bronson said. “She would always put people first before herself.
‘She was my rider’
Bronson said she last saw her daughter when Zaiylah drove up to Leavenworth to tell her in person after she found out she was pregnant at 6 weeks.
“She drove all the way here to surprise me,” Bronson said.
Bronson has memories of spending time with her oldest daughter. The two would go shopping, watch movies, read books, or just sit on the couch enjoying each other’s company.
Her fondest memory was when her daughter would cuddle her.
“She would just love to sleep with me no matter how big or old she got,” Bronson said. “We spent a lot of time together like she was my rider.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help cover funeral arrangements and burial expenses for Zaiylah.
“We ask for your support, no matter how small, to help give Zaiylah a fitting farewell, to commemorate her life, and to show solidarity against domestic violence,” the fundraiser said.
Zaiylah is survived by her father, Stevie Bronson; mother Taronza Bronson; brother Zay’vien Bronson; sister ZyQuiria Bronson; grandfathers Clayton Jones and Willie Shotwell; and grandmother Jeanette Mathias.
A visitation will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9 at the Harvest Christian Center International Church, 616 Grand Ave. in Leavenworth. The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. that day.