‘All these innocent lives’: These were the victims in the Buffalo attack

During his 30 years as a Buffalo police officer, Aaron Salter Jr earned a reputation for bravery, with more than one of his exploits recorded in the local newspaper, The Buffalo News. He once chased down an arsonist, the newspaper reported, and on another occasion he faced down a burglar armed with a shotgun.

Salter retired in 2018, switching to a job that should have been far less treacherous: working as a security guard with the Tops supermarket in east Buffalo.

But Saturday, Salter would once again encounter a situation that would test his bravery when a man — wearing body armour and camouflage gear and armed with an assault weapon — stormed into the supermarket and opened fire.

Salter confronted the gunman and fired back. But he became one of 10 people, including three other store employees and several shoppers, who were killed in one of the deadliest racist massacres in American history.

At least three others were wounded, and almost all of the victims, including Salter, were Black.

The suspect in the attack, Payton S. Gendron, 18, who was taken into custody, had expressed admiration for white supremacist ideology, authorities said.

In addition to Salter, the names of the people fatally shot were released by authorities Sunday night: Celestine Chaney, 65, of Buffalo; Roberta A. Drury, 32, of Buffalo; Andre Mackneil, 53, of Auburn, New York; Katherine Massey, 72, of Buffalo; Margus D. Morrison, 52, of Buffalo; Heyward Patterson, 67, of Buffalo; Geraldine Talley, 62, of Buffalo; Ruth Whitfield, 86, of Buffalo; and Pearl Young, 77, of Buffalo.

The people who were wounded included Christopher Braden, 55, of Lackawanna, New York; Zaire Goodman, 20, of Buffalo; and Jennifer Warrington, 50, of Tonawanda, New York.

On Sunday, more details emerged about many of the victims.

A bullet fired by Salter bounced off the gunman’s body armour, according to Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County executive.

“He’s a true hero, and we don’t know what he prevented,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said of Salter, speaking on ABC’s “This Week.” “There could have been more victims if not for his actions.”

Salter’s son, Aaron Salter III, said that his father “was on the police force for 30 years and nothing like this ever happened.”

“He was just doing a security job, and that guy had to come in there and take all these innocent lives for no reason,” his son said.

He described his father as a “car guy.” When Salter retired from the police force, he bought a 1967 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, which he fixed, polished and cleaned in his free time.

“He told me it was going to be mine one day,” his son said, “but I didn’t want it like this.”

Salter and his wife also had a camper, which they used to take their family on trips. They had three children, including one adopted daughter.

His son said that he had been planning to go to his parents’ house Sunday.

“He told me he was going to call me today to tell me if I should come or not,” he said. “And now we are here.”

Here are the stories of some of the other victims:

Ruth Whitfield, 86: Whitfield was a devoted parishioner for 50 years at Durham Memorial AME Zion Church, where she sang in the choir, her daughter-in-law Cassietta Whitfield said. Ruth Whitfield had lived in Buffalo for more than five decades, raising four children. In recent years she had been caring for her husband, who was in a nursing home. She had eight grandchildren. “She was a religious woman who cared deeply for her family,” her daughter-in-law said.

Roberta Drury, 32: Drury had gone to the Tops supermarket to buy groceries to make dinner, according to her sister, Amanda Drury. “She was very vibrant,” Drury said. “She always was the centre of attention and made the whole room smile and laugh.”

Celestine Chaney, 65: Chaney had been visiting her sister, and they went to the supermarket because Chaney wanted to get strawberries to make shortcakes, which she loved, said her son, Wayne Jones, 48, who confirmed she had died in the shooting. “It’s kind of crazy that she was there shopping, because we go shopping together,” he said.

During the shooting, Chaney’s sister made it into the cooler area where workers store fresh food, Jones said. People hid there from the gunman; the sister survived. “But my mom cannot really walk like she used to,” he said. “She basically can’t run.”

Chaney was a single mother and worked at a suit manufacturer and then made baseball caps before retiring. Jones was her only child, and she had six grandchildren.

Heyward Patterson: Patterson would travel to the supermarket daily, giving people rides for less money than they would have had to spend on a taxi or a ride-sharing service, his grandniece Teniqua Clark said.

That was how he earned money to support three children, his nephew Terrell Clark said.

He was helping someone load groceries into the trunk of a car when he was killed, she said. “He didn’t even have a chance to run,” Clark said. “He didn’t have a chance at all.”

Patterson, who had lived in the Buffalo area his whole life and was in his late 50s or early 60s, was a kind person who was “family-oriented” and loved singing in church, Clark said.

“For this to happen to him, especially it being a racially profiled hate crime, I never thought it would be him,” she said. “He is very harmless.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company




Caption: Xzavia Henderson of Buffalo added flowers on Sunday to a growing memorial for the victims. Photo: Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

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