Nearly two decades later, January Keene was still living her dream.
Since age 11, Keene had made modeling her passion, working her way through photo shoots and along runways in New York and Los Angeles.
At 30, she was starting to pass along some of what she had learned to young girls who hoped to follow her path.
She was a bright young woman who always avoided trouble, her family said.
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That is what makes her death so hard for them to grasp.
A police officer who pulled over a car in midtown early Friday found Keene in the front passenger seat, suffering from a fatal gunshot wound, police said.
Keene was riding in her former boyfriend's car in south Sacramento when she was shot. Investigators are trying to determine a motive.
Police believe Keene's friend was rushing her to a hospital when an officer pulled them over after the car ran a red light at 30th and L streets about 1 a.m. Friday.
Investigators believe Keene and her friend had stopped to talk to a group of men near 21st Avenue and Franklin Boulevard moments before. Police are trying to determine whether the pair knew the men.
The young woman's family said Keene and the 30-year-old man recently ended a short-term relationship.
"I don't understand how my baby was involved in anything like this," said her father, Patrick Keene. "Life is cruel when you have to cut it short for a young girl like that."
"January did not have a mean bone in her body, no matter what anybody did to her," said her mother, Patricia Keene. "She respected life."
A 1993 El Camino High School graduate, Keene "always aspired" to be a model, her mother said. As a young girl, she loved dressing up, and her career had been constant ever since.
About three weeks ago, Keene told her mother that she soon would be heading to New York for a modeling gig.
"She loved the energy of modeling," Patricia Keene said. "You would never see her down."
January Keene was one of seven children -- six girls and one boy -- and at least 50 cousins, her family said.
"She was very strong and passionate about the things she believed in," said one of her cousins, Tommy Kirk. "Beneath her femininity and beauty there was a strength. Not in a million years would I think this could happen."
Her modeling work took her around the country. Besides trips to New York and Los Angeles, she spent time in Atlanta and was planning a trip to Detroit.
"She was adventurous, but she knew where her roots were," said her mother, referring to the family's Arden Arcade home, where relatives spent the weekend grieving and reminiscing.
"She was a strong-willed daughter who had such high hopes for life," her father said. "She had her head in the right direction, and she could reach for the stars if she decided to."