Family and church mourn missionary killed in Buffalo massacre
NEW YORK — The family and church community of 86-year-old missionary Ruth Whitfield, who was the eldest of 10 mostly black people executed by a professed white supremacist during Saturday’s racially motivated massacre at Buffalo’s Tops Friendly Markets, mourns her as the strong woman of faith who was the glue that held her close Christian family together.
“She was a member of this church for over 50 years. She did everything. From choir to mission, a loving, gentle giant in the faith of which we are proud. [She] Lived a very grand and gracious life. We will miss them,” Rev. Kevin Coakley, senior pastor at Durham Memorial AME Zion Church, told The Christian Post on Tuesday.
“We are sad. we are hurt We are just devastated, disturbed, but we are powerful people who trust in God, and we will pray for additional strength to help this family … and other families in Buffalo who are suffering and against this heinous crime and terrorism do humanity.
That list of victims of Saturday’s massacre, released by the Buffalo Police Department, shows that all but two of the dead were residents of New York State. Eleven of the victims were black and two were white. The majority also lived in Buffalo and, like Whitfield, were older adults who probably weren’t fast enough to escape during the attack.
Among the other dead Buffalo residents are Roberta A. Drury, 32; Margus D Morrison, 52; Geraldine Talley, 62; Celestine Chaney, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; Catherine Massey; 72; and Pearl Young, 77. Others killed include Andre Mackneil, 53, of Auburn, New York; and Aaron Salter, 55, of Lockport, New York.
Casualties who survived non-life-threatening injuries during the attack include Zaire Goodman, 20, of Buffalo; Jennifer Warrington, 50, of Tonawanda; and Christopher Braden, 55, of Lackawanna.
Payton S. Gendron, 18, was charged with first-degree murder on Saturday. A press release from the Erie County Attorney’s Office alleges that he drove to the market from his home in Conklin, New York, more than 200 miles away, in tactical gear and armed with an assault weapon.
Police say Gendron, who was held last year for mental health threats to his high school, chose the target for the attack because of the large black population and reportedly conducted a fact-finding mission in March.
At around 2:30 p.m., he shot four people in the grocery store parking lot, three of whom died from their injuries.
The gunman then entered the store and shot with an armed security officer and retired Buffalo Police Department officer Aaron Salter, who died. The man is said to have shot eight other people in the store and killed six. Police say the gunman planned to attack multiple locations.
Coakley said that despite her age, she was a “very active, stoic member” of the Durham Memorial AME. Her whole family prayed with her at church. The pastor called the shooter’s actions a “crime of hatred against the kingdom of God.” He believes justice for the deaths of Whitfield and others “will prevail.”
“This is not just an act against humanity, but a hate crime against the kingdom of God,” Coakley said. “All humans are God’s people, so we just want to undo that. She was a beautiful person of faith and we believe justice will prevail.”
At a church news conference Monday, Whitfield’s extended family, who appeared with their legal team led by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, expressed their pain through tears and sobering speeches.
It was revealed that Whitfield had visited a nursing home to care for her husband on the day of her death. She was on her way home on Saturday when she stopped at Tops.
“When she didn’t feel like it, she did it, and she didn’t feel like it that past day either, but she did it anyway,” her son, former Buffalo Fire Department Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., said of his daily Visits the mother to see his father. “She went off there to get groceries on the way home and she met this nasty, hateful one – she didn’t deserve that. … Nobody deserves that.”
in one Clip from the press conference which has gone viral on social media, Whitfield Jr. asked how America could allow its history of racist killings to repeat itself.
“We don’t just suffer. Were angry. We’re mad. That should not have happened. We do our best to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in God. We trust him,” Whitfield said.
“We treat people with decency and even love our enemies. And you expect us to do this over and over again — over and over again, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While people we elect and trust to office in this country are doing their best not to protect us and not see us as equals.”
Crump has called on federal lawmakers to pass a hate crimes against black law bill similar to the Asia hate crimes law that President Biden signed into law last May and has stalled in Congress.
“[Whitfield’s] Family will define her legacy, her family will remember her for the love she instilled in them in this community and in this world,” Crump said. “Your legacy will be one of love, not hate.”
Whitfield Jr. said his father had not yet been told his wife was dead.
“How do we tell him the love of his life — his main carer, the person who’s kept him alive for the last eight years — how do we tell him she’s gone?” he said. “Not only is she gone, but she has passed through the hands of a white supremacist, a terrorist, an evil person who is allowed to live among us and perpetuate this chaos. How do we tell him that?”
A friend of 32-year-old Roberta Drury, who was the first to die in the massacre, told CBS she was just hoping to get some snacks.
“She gave me a hug and told me she loves me like she always does,” the friend, who asked not to be named, recalled of their most recent interaction. “She went around the corner. I heard shots. I was starting to see everyone running out of tops.”
Drury was shot in front of the supermarket.
“She was a beautiful person. Wanting some snacks that day took her life,” the friend said.
The friend believes followers will “celebrate what he does [shooter] The way the shooter was taken into custody after the surrender, she says, sends the message to other potential “right-wing” extremists that they “can’t get out there, drop their gun, don’t get a scratch.” .
Drury’s friend Tremaine Bryce told CBS he was injured. He said he saw the video of her being gunned down on social media.
“She’s the first victim. I saw that with my own eyes,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I’m hurt. I won’t see my baby anymore. I’m hurt. All in all, a racist act.”
Celestine Chaney’s sister Joann Daniels remembered her as a beloved grandmother. Daniels said they bought strawberry shortcakes from Tops on Saturday when filming began.
“People ran in,” Daniels recalled. “They ran in and I guess they ran her over and I reached down and tried to pick her up and she was like, ‘Go on, go on. I’m coming.'”
“I thought she had my back, but she wasn’t,” Daniels said, trying to contain her emotions. “She saved my life because I wanted to stay with her.”