In the few years she was given, Nevaeh Mallory Collins was a constant source of joy in the lives of the people who knew her best, her family said.

She was sassy. She loved to dance. She was the “girly girl” who always wanted to have her hair and nails done, her mother, Melody Collins, said.

On April 5, Nevaeh’s life ended in a shooting that will forever haunt Collins. The 4-year-old was sitting in a car with her 2-year-old brother outside a gas station in Chester while their father pumped gas and a family friend went into the adjacent store, leaving his loaded gun behind in the car. Nevaeh’s brother picked up the weapon and accidentally shot her once in the head.

Collins, adrift in her grief, says she believes her daughter was doing “what big sisters are supposed to do,” and trying to get the gun away from her brother, because she knew it was dangerous. As detectives continue to investigate what they have said appears to be a tragic accident, Collins, 26, remains determined to keep her family together amid her sorrow and anger.

“I will let my son know the truth, because of course we don’t blame the 2-year-old,” she said. “It was the adults that were there who were irresponsible. Still, I’m terrified of my son growing up to learn about this.”

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer has filed no criminal charges, but the shooting is still under investigation, said his spokesperson, Margie McAboy. So far, she said, investigators have had difficulty reaching the child’s family.

“We completely understand the family’s need to deal first with the funeral of their beloved child, but expect to connect with the family in coming days to review the findings of the investigation,” she said.

Collins said she had not been contacted by law enforcement officials but is eager to speak with them. For her, the only just outcome is for someone to take responsibility for what happened to her daughter.

“There should be some type of charge,” she said. “No matter if it was accidental, you left that gun to have my 2-year-old son pick it up. You didn’t have the necessary precautions around children.”

Authorities said the gun used in the shooting was legally registered to a friend of Collins and her boyfriend, Clinton Mallory. Collins said the friend, whom she knows only as Homer, lives with the couple at their home in Chester.

Attempts to reach Mallory and the other man were unsuccessful.

The shooting, Collins said, happened on a rare day when she was not with her children. She was in jail, being held on a bench warrant for a 2019 retail theft case.

“I was only gone for one day,” Collins said. “She went with me everywhere, and the one day she wasn’t with me, my daughter dies. I will never get over that.”

A memorial for Nevaeh was held Saturday at Johns Funeral Service in Trainer, where her body lay in a pink canopy bed, rather than a coffin, as her loved ones gathered to remember her. Statues of Mickey and Minnie Mouse stood nearby. Her favorite music played as family and friends shared stories and memories of a spirited and happy child gone too soon.

To Nevaeh’s three siblings, ages, 7, 6, and 2, it appeared as if their sister were sleeping, Collins said.

“They know she is gone, but I don’t think they understand,” she said. “No matter what happens, I’m going to keep their sister’s memory alive.”