‘This is a life sentence for us’: Plea deal unsatisfactory to Stafford murder victim’s family

by | Apr 1, 2024 | ALLFFP, Courts and crime, Lead Story, Police and Fire, Stafford

When Kaylah Henderson and her younger sister, Aliyah, were growing up in Stafford County, they sometimes bumped heads. 

Kaylah was 3 ½ years older than Aliyah and often had to take care of her after school.  

“When you’re a preteen watching over your younger sister, it can become a mom kind of relationship,” Kaylah said. “But as we got older, we became best friends.” 

That bond grew stronger after one of Kaylah’s closest friends died after a second bout with COVID-19 at age 24. Kaylah told Aliyah, “You’re my forever best friend. You’re not going anywhere.” 

Kaylah and Aliyah facetimed on Aug. 23, 2022, and discussed getting together the following weekend to get their nails done. 

It was the last time the sisters spoke. 

Two hours later, Kaylah received a call that her little sister was shot by the father of her infant son at the family’s home, but she did not know the extent of the injuries. 

Kaylah rushed to Stafford from Chesterfield County. She saw Stafford County deputies and caution tape surrounding the home. She went inside and heard her mother on the phone telling her employer that she would not be at work because her daughter had died.  

Aliyah was 19. 

“My mom said, ‘My baby’s dead and I can’t come to work,’” Kaylah recalled. “I thought I would get a call back from my sister and I never got a call back.” 

On Dec. 18, 2023, Trevon Vanzant, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, using a firearm in the commission of a felony and possessing a firearm as a felon. Three other charges were dropped, including first-degree murder. Vanzant’s plea called for him to serve 25 to 40 years in prison. 

He was sentenced to 48 years with eight suspended on Monday afternoon in Stafford County Circuit Court with more than 40 friends and family members of Aliyah in attendance wearing purple ribbons to demonstrate support, prompting Judge Victoria Willis to comment she doesn’t know how the court “could capture the decimation of this family and community.”  

Willis called the murder cold-hearted and calculating. Prosecutors said Vanzant was caught in a lie after telling his girlfriend in Richmond that he was going to a funeral, but was at the Hendersons’ home instead. He decided to take out his frustrations on Aliyah as his deceit was exposed, prosecutors said.

Aliyah’s mother, Karen Henderson, said the sentence was the best possible outcome given the plea deal, but the family wanted the case to go to trial and wasn’t in favor of an agreement. 

“Nothing is satisfactory,” Karen Henderson said. “This is a life sentence for us, and he should have a life sentence.” 

Aliyah’s family was left to piece their lives back together following her death. Karen Henderson went to live with her brother for months because she couldn’t endure the trauma of remaining in the home where her daughter was murdered. She still does not enter the basement where the incident took place. She was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after finding her daughter’s body and then standing face-to-face with her killer, pleading for him to sit down during a frantic 911 call that was played at the start of sentencing.

“It’s amazing Mrs. Henderson is still with us today and able to function,” prosecutor Ed Lustig said. “The level of trauma she has seen and endured is unspeakable.”

Karen and Vince Henderson are also left to raise Aliyah’s son, Khalil, who is now 2 years old. 

Khalil has no recollection of his mother, but his grandparents keep her memory alive by showing him videos of the times they spent together. 

Karen Henderson said it was tough to hear Khalil come home from school and say that he has a “memaw” and “papa,” but he does not have a mommy and daddy like his friends. 

“He is very familiar with who his mother is, and I think they had a bond,” Karen Henderson said. “She created a video that chronicled their time together, which I play for him often. We make sure that we play videos in the home, we have pictures on our TVs when they’re not running, pictures all around of her, so that he feels her presence.”


Karen Henderson said Aliyah was a bright, creative and talented young mother who doted over her son. 

Aliyah had plans to attend a school for hair and makeup in Indiana. The week before she was killed, she was cast as an extra on the Apple TV show “Swagger.” She talked her father, Vince Henderson, into joining the show as an extra, as well. 

“She was super excited about that,” Karen Henderson said of the “Swagger” casting. “She was looking forward to being able to network. She saw it as a stepping stone and an opportunity to get a sense of the business.” 

While Aliyah was into hair, makeup, dance and cheer, Kaylah was a basketball standout at Stafford High School and Paul VI, a private school in Fairfax County. She earned a scholarship to Chowan University in North Carolina and is now a coach. 

“She was more into the hair and makeup. I was more of the jock, if you will,” Kaylah said. “She was definitely opposite of me personality-wise.” 

Aliyah wanted to grow closer to her sister and dad, so she played basketball in a league at the Massad Family YMCA. But she grew weary of the sport and left the team right before it won a championship. 

“She could play a little bit,” Kaylah said. “She was a lefty, and she had a nice little shot. She was still working on it before she stopped playing. Sports just wasn’t her thing. Her and mom were into cheer and me and my dad were into basketball.” 

Vince Henderson is the co-owner of the Fredericksburg Grizzlies semipro basketball franchise. 

He said he is still mourning his daughter, but the Grizzlies’ players have helped him cope. They dedicated a recent Mid-Atlantic Region title to him and Aliyah.  

“The process for me is day-to-day,” Vince Henderson said. “I try to keep myself busy. I think if it wasn’t for the basketball team, I wouldn’t be straight at all.” 

Vince Henderson said his grandson also keeps him energized and grounded. Khalil loves basketball and being around the Grizzlies’ players. 

“They tell me, ‘This one is for you. They say, ‘If you can be as strong as you are after losing your daughter and still do stuff with the Grizzlies, we can do the same,’” Vince Henderson said. “Aliyah loved the Grizzlies, too, and that’s another reason why I keep doing it. It’s challenging, but that is my therapy.” 

Karen Henderson said the family will never be the same. In 2018, she was burned in a gas fire while working a part-time job, but that pales in comparison to what the family has endured since late summer 2022. 

“It’s difficult,” Karen Henderson said. “It’s challenging having to piece your life back together. It’s not recognizable, the person you were prior to this and the person you are now.” 

The Hendersons said their faith as well as love and support from family members and friends is what carries them through. Vince Henderson spoke directly to Vanzant and told him that the trust he placed in the young man was violated by his actions. He added, however, that he prays for Vanzant because that’s the only way he can have peace.

“That’s healing for me,” Vince Henderson said. “I can’t have peace if I hate you.” 

The Hendersons are attempting to regain some normalcy while also raising Khalil. Karen Henderson said Khalil is healthy, happy and precocious with an ability to count in both English and Spanish. He’s curious, asks a lot of questions and brings great joy. 

“But there is also sadness in knowing Aliyah is not here and he doesn’t know her,” Karen Henderson said. “He knows her through pictures and videos, but that’s no way to know your mother. He should know her as an individual. He should be able to feel her touch.”  

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