Tony Marshall, who drove customers to and from downtown Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, NY, for 13 years, had just left the store Saturday afternoon and stopped at his nearby home when he heard the gunshots.
Marshall returned to the store to find two colleagues he was particularly close to dead in the parking lot.
“And I knew a third person that I knew was dead inside,” he told CBC News on Sunday. “And I knew when the photos of people came out, I was going to know them to the last one. I’ve been here 13 years. I know everyone in this store.
“One of my drivers who opened his truck to put groceries in was dead,” he said. “The young lady I know from the neighborhood, I see her every day, she says hello to us every day, she was dead.”
Marshall was among a number of Tops employees, as well as members of the predominantly black neighborhood, including representatives from local churches, who gathered at the market intersection to offer support and organize protests. impromptu prayer sessions, but also to express their anger and grief, a day after filming.
It left 10 dead and three injured in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism”.
We learn more about the victims, but they are known to include 11 blacks and two whites. Scribbled on the street in chalk, just off the sidewalk where a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles had grown, were the names of some of the victims, along with a message: “Victims of racism”.
On a typical Sunday afternoon, the parking lot was packed with groceries. But that day, the area was cordoned off with police tape, and shoppers were replaced with members of the Buffalo Police Department, state troopers and the FBI.
An 18-year-old white boy, Payton Gendron, pleaded not guilty to murder charges during a court appearance on Saturday.
Investigators say the accused had researched the demographics of the area and arrived a day early, traveling 320 from his home in Conklin, NY, to conduct a reconnaissance for the ‘express purpose’ of killing as many of blacks as possible.
“I’m part of this place,” says store employee
Marshall said 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 around. “I had to come.”
With the shoot so fresh, he said, “I have my moments. I haven’t slept much. I haven’t been able to eat.”
But Marshall said it’s important for Tops employees to get together, offer support, talk to each other “and hug each other.”
“We have to heal, no matter what, we have to heal.”
WATCH | Confronting extremism in the aftermath of the Buffalo killings:
Tops employee Toy Benefield had just gone out shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, had run a few errands and was on her way home.
“I got out just before it happened. I was about five houses away when I heard the gunshots,” she said.
She also returned when she found out what had happened and discovered “bodies in the parking lot”.
She said the shooting drove her crazy that something like this happened here in Buffalo,
“It’s stuff I see on TV, not here,” she said.
Benefield spoke to some employees who were inside the store at the time of the shooting.
“They’re a little messed up,” she said.
A newcomer to the neighborhood pays tribute
Myrtle Quelley, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, said she shopped at Tops all the time, and quite often on Saturdays when caring for her grandson.
“Usually I have to run and get milk, eggs. I didn’t have to do that yesterday. I could have been there too,” she said Sunday.
But she said it would take some time before she felt comfortable shopping at any store.
Darryl Thomas, who also grew up in the neighborhood, remembers when the land where Tops now stands was just grass and when they built the market.
He said the mass shooting just left him baffled – how anyone could walk in and target people because of the color of their skin.
“We go there all the time,” he said. “There’s no other place to go to get groceries. It’s something I really don’t understand.
“I used to work in there, cleaning. Seeing something like that is crazy.”
Sarah Long, who just moved to the neighborhood, always felt compelled to lay flowers and pay tribute to those who lost their lives.
“We have to do it. It’s horrible because it could have been anyone. It’s a grocery store,” she said. “Coming here, I was afraid to go to a store to buy something because you never know. It’s awful, it’s so awful.
“Where are you supposed to go?” Now you can’t even feel safe walking into the grocery store. »