'It could have been anyone,' says member of Buffalo neighbourhood grieving after mass shooting

A day after a Buffalo, N.Y., mass shooting investigators say was racially motivated, Tops supermarket employees and people from the predominantly Black neighbourhood gathered Sunday in the area of the attack to offer support, pray, and express anger and grief.

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Tony Marshall, who's been driving customers to and from the downtown Tops Friendly Markets location in Buffalo, N.Y., for 13 years, had just left the store Saturday afternoon and stopped off at his home nearby when he heard the shots.

Marshall arrived back at the store and found two colleagues he's particularly close with were dead on the parking lot ground. 

"And I knew a third person that I knew was laying dead inside," he told CBC News on Sunday. "And I knew as the photos of the people came out that I was going to know every last one of them. I've been here 13 years. I know everybody in this store.

"One of my drivers who was opening up his truck to put some groceries in was dead. The young lady I know from the neighbourhood, I see her every day, she says hi to us every day — she was dead."

Tony Marshall was one of a number of Tops employees, along with members of the predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y., where a mass shooting left 10 people dead Saturday, who gathered at the intersection of the market on Sunday. They came together to offer support and hold impromptu prayer sessions, but also express anger and grief. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Marshall was among a number of Tops employees, along with members of the predominantly Black neighbourhood, including representatives of local churches, who gathered at the intersection of the market to offer support and hold impromptu prayer sessions, but also to express anger and grief, a day after the shooting.

It left 10 people dead and three wounded in what authorities have described as "racially motivated violent extremism."

We're still learning more about the victims, but it's known that they include 11 Black people and two white people. Scribbled on the street in chalk, right by the sidewalk where a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles had sprung up, were the names of some of the victims, along with a message: "Victims of Racism."

Tops employee Toy Benefield had just punched out shortly after 2 p.m., had done a little grocery shopping, and was on her way home when she heard gunfire Saturday. 'This is stuff I see on TV, not here,' she told CBC News on Sunday. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

On a typical Sunday afternoon, the parking lot would be packed with grocery shoppers. But on this day, the area was cordoned off with police tape, and shoppers had been replaced by members of the Buffalo police force, state troopers and the FBI.

A white 18-year-old, Payton Gendron, pleaded not guilty to murder charges during a court appearance Saturday.

Investigators say the accused had researched the demographics of the area and arrived a day in advance, travelling from his home in Conklin, N.Y., to conduct reconnaissance with the "express purpose" of killing as many Black people as possible. 

'I'm part of this place,' says store worker

Marshall said that when he heard the shots, he felt compelled to see what was happening. 

"I'm part of this place," he said, standing by the car he uses to shuttle people back and forth. "I had to come."

With the shooting so fresh, he said, "I have my moments. Haven't had much sleep. I haven't been able to eat."

But Marshall said it was important for the Tops employees to get together, offer support, talk "and give each other hugs."

"We gotta heal, regardless of whatever, we gotta heal."

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Tops employee Toy Benefield had just punched out shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, had done a little grocery shopping, and was on her way home. 

"I walked out right before this happened. I was about five houses down when I heard the shots," she said. 

She also returned when she found out what had happened and discovered "bodies in the parking lot."

She said the shooting has left her mad that something like this happened here in Buffalo.

"This is stuff I see on TV, not here," she said. 

Benefield has spoken to some employees who were inside the store at the time of the shooting.

"They're kind of messed up," she said.

Newcomer to neighbourhood pays respects

Myrtle Quelley, who was born and raised in the neighbourhood, said she shops at Tops all the time, and quite often on Saturdays when she looks after her grandson.

"I usually have to run in and grab some milk, some eggs. I didn't have to yesterday. I could have been in there too," she said Sunday.

But she said it will be awhile before she feels comfortable shopping at any store. 

Darryl Thomas, who also grew up in the neighbourhood, remembers when the land where Tops now sits was just grass, and when they built the market.

He said the mass shooting has just left him confused — how someone could go in and target people because of the colour of their skin.

Sarah Long, who just recently moved into the Buffalo neighbourhood where the shooting occurred, felt compelled to lay down some flowers and pay respects to those who lost their lives. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

"We go in there all the time," he said. "There's nowhere else to go for groceries. This is some stuff I really don't understand. 

"I used to work in there, I used to clean up. To see something like that, it's crazy."

Sarah Long, who just recently moved into the neighbourhood, still felt compelled to lay down some flowers and pay respects to those who lost their lives.

"We have to. It's horrible because it could have been anybody. It's a grocery store," she said. "On the way here, I was scared to go into a store to get something because you never know. It's horrible, it's so horrible.

"Where are you supposed to go? Now you can't even feel safe going into the grocery store."



Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Associated Press