UNION SQUARE — Relatives of the 23-year-old homeless woman who was found dead in Union Square Thursday morning said she was joyful and loved to travel.
Kayla Mitchell, who authorities said was discovered under a tree near 14th Street and Union Square East, was affectionate and full of life, loved ones recalled.
"I remember getting hugs from her every time I saw her," said Erica Nickerson, Mitchell's 22-year-old cousin, Friday morning. "She was very friendly and sometimes she was the loudest person in the room."
And the denizens of Union Square remembered Mitchell, who always had her beloved dog with her, as one of their own.
"She was part of the park," said Henry, who said he often sleeps in Union Square.
The medical examiner has not yet determined how Mitchell died, authorities said, but cops don't believe foul play was involved.
"We’re not sure why she died. They just told me that her heart stopped," Nickerson said.
When Mitchell was younger, she sang in choirs and played sports in her native Hull, Mass., Nickerson said. She also loved traveling around the United States — going from the northeast to California and then to New York, with occasional visits back home.
"She loved traveling. She started going all over the place as she got older," Nickerson said.
As a teenager, she rebelled. But it wasn't until her mother passed away in 2010 that Mitchell's life turned for the worse, she said.
On Thursday, Nickerson received a tearful call from her teenage sister. Their father grabbed the phone and delivered the bad news.
"Kayla died," he told her. "Come home."
Relatives were still planning Mitchell's funeral.