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Shooting in Sioux Falls

Submitted Photo Rachel Kvaale (from left), Amanda Connors and Mya Van Der Stoep pose for a recent photo.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- A 2007 graduate of Ellsworth High School was found dead from a gunshot wound Tuesday afternoon inside her vehicle, in the parking lot of her place of employment on one of Sioux Falls' busiest streets.

Amanda Connors, 24, was the manager of a Cost Cutters salon located in a strip mall on 41st Street. The shooting took place after a man took his two young children from a babysitter's home at gunpoint before apparently killing himself inside the salon after officers found Connors shot to death.

Karla Kvaale of Ellsworth recalled the close friendship her family -- and particularly her daughter, Rachel -- had with Connors.

"My daughter and Amanda were best friends from the time they were in sixth and seventh grade," Kvaale remembered. "We moved here in 1999, and I think Amanda moved here the year before. My daughter, Amanda and Mya Van Der Stoep, those three were very good friends, and they were together a lot.

"A lot of times they were over at our house, and I always told my daughter Amanda was the sister she always wanted."

Connors earned a degree at Stewart School of Hairstyling in Sioux Falls and later began working at Cost Cutters, where she became assistant manager and then manager about six months ago.

She was at work Tuesday when the man who took his children from their sitter's released the youths as well as four employees -- one of whom was the children's mother -- after entering the Cost Cutters, according to Police Sgt. Loren McManus.

Employees reported hearing a gunshot as they were leaving the building, he said.

McManus said the gunman didn't appear to want to hold the employees or children hostage.

"I don't think they were forced to stay or go," he said. "They left on their own."

Shortly before 4 p.m., a SWAT team that entered the building discovered the man had died, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, McManus said. He was later identified as Tyrone Leeon Smith, 38, of Sioux Falls, who according to later media reports had been released from the Minnehaha County Jail Monday after pleading not guilty to a domestic assault charge against the mother.

Kvaale said Tuesday night that Connors' death "is still not real," and that she happened to be "in just the wrong place at the wrong time." She described her daughter as "devastated" by the news.

"There are many times where she's said, "I'm so glad I have Amanda in my life," said Kvaale of her daughter, who she said spent a recent vacation with Connors in Fargo, N.D.

Kvaale also recalled that her husband, Ken, taught Connors in social studies during her time at Ellsworth High School.

"He said she was always a bright spot in the classroom," Kvaale said. "She had a beautiful smile, and was a beautiful person inside and outside.

"I felt a lot of times like I a bonus mom for her. She and Rachel were just so close. I felt like she was a member of the family."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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