Families in Ontario grieve with Buffalo, N.Y., after 'heartbreaking' mass shooting

Sherri Darlene's father regularly shops at the supermarket where 10 people were killed and three were wounded in a shooting on Saturday. The Niagara Falls woman and her family are an example of close ties between the border communities. She says more must be done to combat white supremacy.

Advocates say shooting is evidence more resources should be put toward combating white supremacy

Mourners gather Sunday for a vigil for victims of the shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., a day earlier. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Sherri Darlene says her father, Robert Ford, visits Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., nearly every day, just to pickup "little things." It happens so often that it's become a bit of a family joke.

The 74-year-old was on his way there Saturday when he stopped to see if his friend Larry wanted to join him, according to his daughter, who lives across the border in Niagara Falls, Ont. 

Darlene said her phone started ringing around the same time, with people telling her there had been a mass shooting in the city she was born in, and she should check in with her loved ones.

"My heart just dropped and I immediately called my father," said Darlene.

Ford told her what had happened.

"We got to talking on the porch and the next thing you know we heard sirens," she recalled he father saying. 

He came "that close," to being there at the same time, she said during a video interview with CBC on Sunday morning, holding her fingers just an inch apart. "That close."

Officials say the accused, a white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera, opened fire with a rifle at the Buffalo supermarket on Saturday, killing 10 people and wounding three others in what authorities described as "racially motivated violent extremism."

Police said those shot were 11 Black people and two white individuals in the shooting broadcast live on the streaming platform Twitch. The accused eventually surrendered to authorites.

Darlene has family in the neighbourhood where the shooting happened and described the supermarket as the "Blackest Tops in Buffalo." On a Saturday afternoon it would have been crowded with shoppers, especially the elderly, she said.

"This is my backyard and it's way too close to home. It's so scary and so heartbreaking."

Darlene said that over 24 hours, members of the Black community in Buffalo shared their anger and frustration, calling the shooting a "reality check."

"I need white people to wake up," said Darlene, who is also the founder of the Niagara-based Justice 4 Black Lives. 

"We're tired of you telling us that we're in your thoughts. We're tired of you feeling sorry for us. What we want you to do is acknowledge that white supremacy is the biggest threat in this country today."

Darlene moved to Niagara from Buffalo when she was two. Most of her family still lives there and she said she visits regularly, adding when she's in the city, she's at the Tops where the shooting happened "all the time."

Strong ties connect communities across the border

Her family is an example of the deep connections between Buffalo and the Canadian cities across the border; connections she says date back to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Fort Erie, Ont., Mayor Wayne Redekop also emphasizes the link his community shares with the city directly across the Niagara River.

"There are close family ties between our two communities, not to mention the deep friendships among our residents and those in Buffalo," he wrote in a text message to CBC on Sunday. 

"In many respects, we are one large community, connected by our history, geography and culture."

Redekop said people in Fort Erie are "horrified" by what happened and grieving, calling "the knowledge that the shooter was racially motivated ... extremely troubling."

Flags are being lowered to half-mast in Niagara Falls, Ont., just a short drive away, and the city's mayor said there are plans to light the falls in honour of those who were killed.

"Our hearts are broken after learning what happened in Buffalo," wrote Jim Diodati in a statement, describing Buffalo as a "neighbour" and adding he has contacted its mayor, Byron Brown, to "offer support from their friends in Canada."

Torn between heartbreak and anger

Darlene says more than support is needed.

"Black people literally walk around with a target on their back and it's constantly being minimized," she said. "We have to call this what it is, this is straight up terrorism and it's against Black people."

People gather outside the scene of the shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sunday. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

Saleh Waziruddin, a member of the executive for the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association, shared a similar sentiment.

He said the mass shooting is further evidence white supremacy needs to be taken seriously and more resources should be put toward investigating it, both in the U.S. and Canada.

"Everybody's horrified," he said. "This is something really extreme, but we know it could happen anywhere and I think it could happen here in Canada as well."

Sherri Darlene is the founder of Justice 4 Black Lives in the Niagara Region. She was born in Buffalo, but grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont., and said there are close ties between the two communities. (Supplied by Sherri Darlene)

Darlene said she's been on "pins and needles" for the past 24 hours, as more is revealed about the shooter and the people he killed.

Tension in the community is high right now, according to her father, torn between heartbreak and anger that Black people have been targeted yet again.

"The youth, they just don't know what to do because it's almost like standing on the top of the mountain screaming, for years and years and years," said Darlene. "What exactly is it going to take?"

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

With files from The Associated Press