BUFFALO, N.Y. (PIX11) — One of Ruth Whitfield’s granddaughters nearly collapsed in tears Monday while joining her family to speak about her 86-year-old grandmother’s legacy.
Whitfield was one of 10 victims who didn’t make it out of Tops supermarket alive, after a gunman wearing body armor started shooting shoppers and employees with a rifle Saturday afternoon.
Eleven of the 13 gunshot victims were Black.
“It’s not just some story in the news cycle,” Whitfield’s son, Garnell Whitfield Jr., said, his voice full of emotion. “This is our mother! This is our lives!”
He used to work as Buffalo’s fire commissioner. He said his family does their best to be good citizens and good people.
“We treat people with decency! And we even love our enemies,” he said Monday.
Ruth Whitfield’s four adult children and many of her grandchildren gathered around national civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump, to talk about their selfless, loving grandmother. Ruth Whitfield had just visited her husband of 68 years in a local nursing home before she stopped for groceries.
Her daughter, Robin, spoke of losing her dearest confidante.
“I felt the need to let you know that my mom was my best friend,” Robin Whitfield said to the assembled media.
She said the nation’s gun laws need to be fixed “ASAP.” She also spoke of online hate, like the kind that allegedly drove 18-year-old Peyton Gendron to target Black Buffalo residents in the shooting.
A number of victims were senior citizens who couldn’t outrun the young accused killer. The youngest victim to die was 32-year-old Roberta Drury, who was staying in Buffalo to help her brother recover from a bone marrow transplant.
Retired Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Salter Jr. had served his city for 30 before retiring. He worked as a security guard for the supermarket, and tried to stop the shooter. He fired at the shooter’s chest, but it was deflected by the suspect’s body armor.
Salter was killed when the suspect fired back.
One of the other victims was 52-year-old Margus Morrison, a former school bus aide who had stopped at Tops for snacks to enjoy a TV night at home. Celestine Chaney, 65, was a breast cancer survivor who went to Tops to buy strawberries for a shortcake.
Another victim, 53-year-old Andre MacKneir, traveled to the store from Auburn, a nearby community. Heyward Patterson, 67, was a deacon at State Tabernacle Church and didn’t make it out of Tops alive. The same was true for Geraldine Talley, 62.
Pearl Young, 77, had served the Buffalo community for years as a substitute teacher in local schools.
“She was always laughing,” one friend remembered fondly. The Alabama native had moved to New York as a young woman and married a minister.
And the hate-fueled shooting claimed one, final victim who had spoken out about gun violence one year ago this month. Kat Massey, 72, was a member of a Buffalo organization called “We are Women Warriors.”
In May 2021, Massey wrote an op-ed calling for more federal regulation of firearms.
“There needs to be extensive federal action [and] legislation to address all aspects of the issue,” she wrote.
On Saturday, a gun silenced Massey’s voice.
Pastor Darius Pridgen of New Bethel Baptist Church said his community will need enormous help with healing.
“One of the things our community needs and doesn’t get enough of is mental health counseling,” Pridgen said. “We’re going to need that in this community.”