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A community leader and a retired Buffalo officer are among victims killed in racist shooting at supermarket

"She would do anything for anyone," Dawn Massey said of Katherine Massey. "Very family-oriented. She was the closest extension of our grandmother."
Barbara Mapps, center, lost her sister, Katherine Massey, in the mass shooting at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Barbara Mapps, center, lost her sister, Katherine Massey, in the mass shooting at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. She and her family are grieving her loss.Joshua Thermidor for NBC News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Katherine Massey, a Buffalo native, spent her life fighting for her community and rebuilding the area surrounding Cherry Street, where she and her relatives lived.

A mural was added to the neighborhood, and front yards are decorated with giant trees because of her. In her spare time, she went around picking up trash and donating supplies to schools. 

After she retired five years ago from Blue Cross Blue Shield, she became the Cherry Street block club president, a title she took seriously. 

"She did a lot, never stopped. She had a task a day," niece Dawn Massey, 30, said. "She was so prevalent in the community. She was so adamant about her community, where her family resides."

Former Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant told The Buffalo News that Katherine Massey was a “powerful, powerful voice.” 

Katherine Massey.
Katherine Massey.Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News

Katherine often wrote for local newspapers, including the Buffalo Challenger, her family said. Last year, she wrote a letter to The Buffalo News pushing for more federal regulations of firearms. She wrote it after Erie County Legislator April Baskin's cousin died on April 24, 2021.

It "is another gut-wrenching account of the escalating gun violence in Buffalo and many major U.S. cities," she wrote.

Katherine, 72, was one of 10 people killed Saturday when a gunman opened fire at Tops Friendly Market in a racist rampage targeting Black people. Three others were wounded. An 18-year-old white man is in custody.

Katherine Massey's nephew Demetrius Massey and niece Dawn Massey.
Katherine Massey's nephew Demetrius Massey and niece Dawn Massey.Joshua Thermidor for NBC News

Her brother, Warren Massey, said he dropped off Katherine at the grocery store shortly before the shooting.

He said that he usually stayed with Katherine but that she told him to come back and pick her up. "I never thought that was the last time I would see her," he said.

Katherine, or Aunt Kat, as her family called her, was the family matriarch. She never had children but was a mother figure to her nieces and nephews.

"She was the greatest person you will ever meet in your life," said nephew Demetrius Massey, 39. 

Dawn Massey added: "She would do anything for anyone. Very family-oriented. She was the closest extension of our grandmother." 

Her family said they are trying to process her death. 

"I'm still using present tense," Dawn Massey said.

Demetrius Massey added, "It doesn't seem real."  

Aaron Salter Jr., 55, a security guard at Tops, was also remembered as a beloved member of his community. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia called him a "hero in our eyes."

People visit a memorial on Sunday across the street from the Tops supermarket where a shooter killed 10 people and injured 3 others in Buffalo, N.Y.
People visit a memorial Sunday across the street from the Tops supermarket where a shooter killed 10 people and injured three others in Buffalo, N.Y.Joshua Thermidor for NBC News

Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer, fired at the gunman multiple times, but the bullets did not pierce the suspect's armor-plated vest.

"(He was) a hero who gave his life to save others on a Saturday afternoon," President Joe Biden said in Buffalo on Tuesday.

"And had that man not been wearing that vest that he purchased, a bullet-proof vest, a lot of lives would have been saved."

Ruth Whitfield, 86, had just visited her husband at a nursing home, where he has lived for eight years, and had stopped for groceries when she was gunned down.

Her son, retired Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield, told reporters Monday that the family hasn't yet told his father about Saturday's tragedy.

“How do we tell him (that) the love of his life, his primary caretaker, the person who kept him alive the last eight years, how do we tell him that she’s gone?" Whitfield said.

"Not just that she’s gone, but (that) she’s gone at the hands of a white supremacist, of a terrorist, of an evil person who is allowed to live among us."

Whitfield's daily visits to her husband involved small tasks that often included ironing his clothes, clipping his nails or grooming his mustache.

"Religiously, every day she goes and sees about him," the former fire commissioner said of his parents, who had been married for 68 years.

"Whatever he needed to maintain some sense of dignity and quality of life, she poured herself into that. And on that last Saturday, she was doing that same thing."

Heyward Patterson, a 67-year-old driver, was loading groceries into his car for a client when he was gunned down, wife Tirzah Patterson told NBC News.

"'Why this way?' That was my response," said the grieving widow and mother of their 12-year-old son.

"I didn't know if I should be angry, I didn't know if I should be hurt. There are all different kinds of emotions, but the first thing I thought was, 'Why this way?' Any other way, I'm not saying I'd prefer him to pass away in his sleep or something, but this (is) tragic, not this way."

The family of Roberta Drury, 32, said she grew up in Cicero, New York, and moved to Buffalo 10 years ago. She helped care for her brother, who is recovering from cancer.

Buffalo shooting victims
Nine of the 10 people killed in a shooting at a Buffalo supermarket. Top, from left, Katherine Massey, Aaron Salter, Pearly Young, Ruth Whitfield and Celestine Chaney. Bottom, Heyward Patterson, Roberta Drury, Andre (Elliott) Mackneil and Margus Morrison.

"She enjoyed her time with her family, especially the yearly family trips to Wildwood, NJ," her family said in a statement Sunday. "Our family is extra saddened that in the 10 years since Sandy Hook, nothing has changed with gun violence."

For more than 20 years, Pearl Young ran a food pantry in the Central Park neighborhood to feed people every Saturday, according to reporter Madison Carr. Her family said in a statement that she was a "worshipper" and "loved God."

"The Family of Pearl Young would like to say first and foremost that she will be truly missed," the statement read. "If there is one consolation that we can take from this tragedy is that we know that mom is up in heaven with our dad (her Ollie) and dancing and shouting with our heavenly father."

The granddaughter of Celestine Chaney, 65, described her grandmother as “the sweetest person ever,” with an energy that was contagious and made everyone feel at home.

“She was always there for me,” said Kayla Johnson, one of six grandchildren.

Johnson said she learned of the death of her grandmother, who had beaten cancer and just celebrated her 65th birthday, from her sister.

While searching on social media for information about the shooting, she came across a livestream of the attack that authorities said the gunman posted to the platform Twitch — a discovery that made her cry so much “my face hurt,” she said.

“It’s really traumatizing to see something like that,” she said.

The company said it removed the broadcast less than two minutes after it was posted. 

Other victims killed included Geraldine Talley, 62; Margus D. Morrison, 52; and Andre Mackneil, 53.

Mackneil's family said he was buying a cake for his 3-year-old son when he was killed.

Morrison was at Tops that afternoon to buy snacks for a weekly movie night with his family, Biden said Tuesday.

"(He was) the center of their world," the president eulogized.

Talley was "known for her warm, gentle personality, friend to everybody, devoted mother and grandmother," Biden added.

Three people were wounded in the shooting: Jennifer Warrington, 50; Christopher Braden, 55 and Zaire Goodman, whose mother is a staffer for state Sen. Tim Kennedy. Goodman's mother, Zeneta Everhart, said the 20-year-old is "truly divinely protected" and is home recovering.

The suspect, Payton Gendron, of Conklin, New York, was arraigned Saturday evening in Buffalo City Court on one count of first-degree murder, the Erie County District Attorney's Office said. He is being held without bail, and a felony hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning, the office said.

Mayor Byron Brown said the gunman drove from hours away to carry out the attack. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department "is investigating this matter as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism."

CORRECTION (May 16, 2022, 10:12 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of wounded victim Zaire Goodman’s mother. She is Zeneta Everhart, not Erhart.