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HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — The family of the 17-year-old victim of a suspected murder-suicide is sharing their heartbreak for the first time.

Authorities believe Mya Pena was killed in a parking lot near her school by her boyfriend on Jan. 14. The boyfriend shot and killed himself later that night, police said.

Mya’s mother, Audra, said she was in disbelief.

“I sat in my room the other day and said, ‘How did this happen to me? This happens to other people. How did this happen to my child? My beautiful girl,'” Audra said.

Mya’s sister, Alexis, said Mya was loving, eccentric and competitive.

“She had such a warm spirit when she came into the room. It would always make you smile. She loved everyone — she had a really big heart. She was really sensitive. She was a really big protector. So if she saw someone in need and couldn’t defend themselves, she was the first one to step up,” Alexis said.

Audra and Alexis believe Mya’s loving, caring nature drew her to the teen that reportedly killed her after a short relationship.

“She knew of his mental illness, of his depression. Because she had such a big heart, she tried to help him. She was trying to save him,” Audra said.

Mya Pena

Audra says she knew immediately when Mya was missing that something was terribly wrong.

“When she was missing, I knew Mya would always fight to be here with us. It never crossed my mind she would just take off and do anything to hurt myself or Lexi. I know she fought. It makes me proud,” she said.

The family shared new details of her death.

“We wanted to share Mya did fight for her life. She did not want to leave our family. She was always protective and do believe she died protecting our family and it was to protect my mom. He did not shoot her, it was a strangulation. She did fight. He used a lot of manipulative things to control her. Because she was a fighter and she wasn’t going to go down. Unfortunately, he was a boy, he was overpowering — an MMA fighter — and he had things he used, different techniques she wasn’t prepared for. I think that’s why we are so adamant about having self-defense classes in schools. That could save a life. Even though she was a strong girl, she couldn’t do it,” Alexis said.

Audra said, “It’s unimaginable pain. I never in my life knew I could feel so empty.”

But she said it’s not the end of Mya’s story.

“I want to take this pain and anger I have and I want to start a foundation. It will be called Mya’s World,” she said.

They want to empower young women and girls. They want to make self-defense classes available in schools, along with better training for counselors.

“I think that’s why we are so motivated to help others see red flags and bring more awareness,” Alexis said.

Audra said, “I received a message from a young lady yesterday that said, ‘I cut off a toxic relationship because of Mya’s story.’ So to know Mya’s story is going to empower children, young ladies, even older ladies to cut this toxic relationships off is giving us strength and hope because it’s hard to get up every day.”

They say Mya was their inspiration and will continue to be.

“She fought to live. She wanted to be here. We can all fight back. We’re going to fight back for her. We’re going to make her life live on forever. She used to tell us she was going to be famous and use it for good. So that’s what we are going to do for her,” Audra said.

If you would like to help her family, a GoFundMe has been established for funeral expenses.