8-year-old tornado survivor lands spot right next to Kanye during service in Dayton

“She’s been pretty down, and with everything going on, we couldn’t do much fun stuff this summer... It was great to see a smile on her face,” mom said

Kelly Watts can't help but gush about her daughter.

Ryleigh Manuel helped her mom stay strong during the tornado that destroyed their Trotwood home on Memorial Day.

>> RELATED: Dayton still standing strong in face of housing issues 

And just last Sunday, the spunky 8-year-old found herself singing and dancing right next to rapper and mogul Kanye West during his special service at RiverScape MetroPark for victims of the Aug. 4 mass shooting in the Oregon District.

Ryleigh and her mom are staying with her grandmother while repairs are made to their home.

Watts said a friend recruited her and Ryleigh's dad, Trae Manuel, to sing in the Sunday service choir and to keep it "low key."

>> PHOTOS: Stevie Wonder, Chance the Rapper among performers at Dave Chappelle’s Gem City Shine

“It wasn’t the intent for Ryleigh to sing, but she had to come to rehearsals with me. She also sings, so she started learning the songs along with me,” Watts said. “Kanye’s people gave the go ahead for her to sing Sunday morning, and his people had her come to the front right behind Kanye.”

>> Mayor: Gem City Shine event was ‘very Dayton’

This surprise made the little girl’s day.

Credit: Kelly Watts

Credit: Kelly Watts

"She thought it was extremely exciting and fun," Watts said. "Obviously, we lost our house to the storm, but she also knew one of the victims of the shooting. (Thomas McNichols) was the custodian at her old school. So she's been pretty down, and with everything going on, we couldn't do much fun stuff this summer so she's been pretty bummed. It was great to see a smile on her face." 

Credit: Kelly Watts

Credit: Kelly Watts

Known as TeeJay, McNichols was one of nine people killed by a gunman in Dayton's Oregon District early Sunday morning.

Before being fatally shot by police, a 24-year-old Bellbrook man also murdered Logan Turner, Nicholas Cumer, Beatrice Warren-Curtis Monica Brickhouse Megan Betts, Derrick Fudge, Lois Oglesby and Saeed Saleh.

>> Remembering the victims of the Oregon District mass shooting

Credit: Kelly Watts

Credit: Kelly Watts

>> PHOTOS: Kanye West holds ‘Sunday Service’ event in Dayton

West’s service led up to Gem City Shine in the Oregon District, hosted by Dave Chappelle later that day, Aug. 25.


That event featured appearances and performances by a list of Chappelle friends that includes Stevie Wonder, Jon Stewart and Chance the Rapper.

>> AMELIA ROBINSON: Jennifer’s girl has not been the same since mass shooting 

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