Jefferson's father, Marquis Jefferson, said his daughter shared his passion for reading, even as a child..
"When she was growing up, I read to her a lot. I bought her a lot of books," Marquis Jefferson told KTVT. "Oh, she loved to read all the time. Her mother would tell me, 'She's in there reading, reading, reading.'"
That love for reading fueled Atatiana Jefferson's drive toward earning a bachelor's degree in biology from Xavier University in 2014, said S. Lee Merritt, the Jefferson family's attorney.
Reynold Verret, president of the New Orleans-based university, offered condolences on behalf of the school.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with her family and friends as we gather as a community in prayer," Verret wrote in a letter to the Xavier community, according to The Dallas Morning News. "As we wait for details of this incident to unfold, let us cling to our mission of justice and humanity and seek answers to this tragedy."
Until her death, Atatiana Jefferson was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was saving her money to attend medical school. She returned home home a few months ago to take care of her mother, Merritt told CNN.
Amber Carr, Atatiana Jefferson's sister, is Zion's mother. Carr said her sister had been taking care of Zion while she was recovering from heart surgery.
"The relationship she had with my son was incredible," Carr told reporters Monday. "She helped Zion every day (to) get ready for school."
Merritt said Atatiana Jefferson kept her nephew away from the window of the home when she saw someone in the backyard, WFAA reported.
“His Auntie Tay did not allow him to check the window. I ask myself what would’ve happened if that little boy had checked the window instead of his auntie," Merritt said.
Jefferson's death occurred less than two weeks after former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean, a black man shot in 2018 as he ate ice cream in his home.
After Guyger was sentenced, Jean's brother and the judge hugged her.
Marquis Jefferson is not planning an embrace.
"Unlike Botham Jean, I don't want no hug. That's my one and only daughter," Marquis Jefferson told KTVT. "I'll never forget that."