They were carers, protectors and helpers, running an errand or doing a favor or finishing a shift, when their paths crossed with a young man driven by racism and hate and baseless conspiracy theories.
In a flash, the ordinariness of their day was shattered at Buffalo’s Tops Friendly Market, where in and around the supermarket’s aisles, a symbol of the mundane was transformed into a scene of mass murder.
The carts were abandoned. Bodies littered the tiled floor. Police radios crackled with cries for help.
Investigators will try, for days, to reconstruct the massacre that killed 10 people, all black and apparently hunted for the color of their skin.
Those who loved them are left with their memories of the lost, who suffered death in the midst of the simple task of buying groceries.
“These people were just shopping,” said Steve Carlson, 29, mourning his 72-year-old neighbor Katherine Massey, who often checked in, gave him birthday and Christmas presents, and urged him to money when he helped with gardening work. “They went to look for food to feed their families.”
One was from volunteering at a food bank. Another cared for her husband in his retirement home. Most were in their 50s and beyond and were meant for more, even if it was just dinner they planned to cook.
Shonnell Harris, a store manager, was stocking shelves when she heard the first of what she thought was more than 70 knocks. She ran for the back door, tripping several times along the way. She wondered where her daughter, a grocery store clerk, was and walked around the store.
She saw someone being shot, she said, and a man who looked like he was dressed for the military.
“Like a nightmare,” Harris told the Buffalo News, shaken but grateful to have found her daughter safe.
The grisly scene was released online by the shooter, a video notable not only for the gore of the murders, but also for the speed with which they unfolded. In the deafening rat-a-tat of gunfire, 10 voices were silenced, their stories left for others to recite.
From a woman whose niece swore she was “the apple of God’s eye.” From a longtime cop turned store keeper whose son knew he had died a hero. Of a baking ace who would give you the shirt off her back.
Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose 86-year-old mother Ruth Whitfield was killed in the attack, said she came to Tops after her daily ritual of visiting her husband of 68 years at his home in retirement. In many ways, for so many years, Whitfield Jr. said his mother dedicated her life to those she loved.
“That day was like any other day for my mother,” he said Monday as he considered how to break the news to his father.
Heyward Patterson, a 67-year-old deacon of the State Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, was doing the same things he had long been known for. He had just helped out at his church’s soup kitchen and was now in Tops, volunteering in the community jitney service which transports people without a commute to and from the store.
Pastor Russell Bell of the Church of the Tabernacle said he believed Patterson had loaded someone’s groceries into his trunk when the gunfire struck him down.
“Wherever he was, he encouraged people to do their best,” Bell said.
When the clients arrived at Tops before the shoot, their objective was clear.
Roberta Drury, 32, was looking for something for dinner. André Mackneil, 53, came to collect a cake for his son’s third birthday. Celestine Chaney, 65, needed a shortcake to go with the strawberries she sliced.
For some in the store, it was probably a trip of necessity, to fill an empty fridge or retrieve a missing ingredient. For Chaney, however, it was more than a nagging chore. Shops were his passion.
Her 48-year-old son, Wayne Jones, said he usually takes his mother shopping each week, stopping at grocery store after grocery store in search of the best deals, with occasional stops for a hot dog or a McDonald’s.
“We had hit four or five stores looking for a deal,” he laughed even as his face was wet with tears.
On Saturday, it was Chaney’s older sister, JoAnn Daniels, 74, who accompanied her shopping, and the two sisters took a winding trip down the aisles of Tops. Chaney knew she needed some shortcakes, but walking around the store decided she wanted to make shrimp salad too, laughing with her sister as they filled the cart. She paced the roast beef and complained about the price of the rolls before turning to the chicken thighs.
“You made?” she finally asked her sister, who said she was.
The pops suddenly ricocheted. The sisters thought it was firecrackers, but others started running. They went to follow, but Chaney was knocked down. Daniels said she reached out to help, but her sister said she was fine.
“I’m coming,” Daniels told his sister. She thought Chaney was behind her.
It will be hours before he learns the truth when his nephew sees the video of the shooting: his little sister, who had survived breast cancer and three operations for aneurysms, died during a trip at the grocery store.