Twelve-year-old Maleah Ellis, her mom Stefanie and family friend Angela Linner were sitting in a car outside their Phoenix home when a stranger pulled up and opened fire.
All three were killed – shot more than 30 times, according to Sefanie’s brother – by a suspected serial killer who has been unleashing violence at random across the city since March, police believe.
Seven people have been killed and two more wounded in a series of attacks that have led authorities to offer a $30,000 reward and warn residents city-wide to stay alert whenever they go outside. The victims were reportedly shot as they walked down the sidewalk, stepped out their front doors or sat in their cars.
Sylvester Ellis, Stefanie’s brother, tells PEOPLE that the shooting on June 12 has rocked his family – especially Stefanie’s surviving daughters, age 14 and 15.
CITY OF PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT
“The gun shots woke me up … I’m the one that actually found them in the car. And life hasn’t been the same,” Sylvester, 35, says. “I woke up out my sleep, went outside and saw them like that … they were all slumped over in the car.”
Sylvester says that the gunman shot the victims repeatedly, “About 14 times Stefanie, Maleah seven and Angela 11.”
He tells PEOPLE that he “cried out” at the sight of the violent scene and Stefanie’s daughters Meagan and Morgan, who had been asleep inside, were “hollering and crying.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
“It was a chaotic situation for everyone,” Sylvester says. “My little nieces ended up calling the police. I didn’t have my phone on me.”
Maleah and Angela, 31, were pronounced dead at the scene. Stefanie, 33, was taken to the hospital in critical condition. She died at a hospital last week.
Family members are raising money to pay for Stefanie’s funeral onGoFundMe.
Maleah is the youngest victim of the suspected Phoenix serial killer. The suspect is said to have driven up to his victims and opened fire as they stood on sidewalks or sat in cars on the city’s west side.
The dead also include: Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, Krystal White, Horacio De Jesus Pena and Manuel Castro Garcia.
Stefanie and her friend Angela were in the car listening to music about 3 a.m. because they didn’t want to wake Stefanie’s children sleeping inside. Sylvester says little Maleah always followed her mom around and couldn’t help but run outside to join when she awoke and saw her mother pulling up.
The weeks following the deaths have been hard on the entire family, Sylvester tells PEOPLE, but he credits Ellis’ surviving daughters with keeping the family strong.
“They’re two strong little girls. They’ve been my strength,” he says. “They’ve been the family’s strength.”
He became emotional when talking about Maleah, the youngest of Ellis’ children, whom he called “Lea-Lea.”
“My little princess. She is the life of the family. She wanted to have fun all the time. She was just a good girls,” Sylvester says. “She was very, very friendly. Everybody loved her. All the kids in the neighborhood loved her. Lea-Lea was a good girl.”
He calls Stefanie his “backbone” and says she was a great parent to her three daughters.
“She was a mother and a father to her kids. She was a single parent to her kids. She played both roles,” he says. “She was actually financially helping my parents a lot.
“That’s my little sister. She was everything to us.”