(COVER IMAGE) People gather at the scene of mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Sunday, May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, NY. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Buying food to make dinner, strawberries for a shortcake; or groceries to feed them and their community. — These are some of the reasons the women who lost their lives in Saturday’s fateful shooting were at Tops Market. They were living their authentic lives not knowing what would be awaiting them that afternoon; not knowing that they and their families would be forever etched and tied to one of the worst massacres of the year and that their community has ever witnessed. Ruth Whitfield. Pearly Young. Katherine Massey. Celestine Chaney. Roberta Drury. Geraldine Talley. We say their names.
While we acknowledge and honor the men who also lost their lives in the shooting as a publication specializing in being the “storytelling sanctuary” for women of color we want to make sure these women are known and a part of their story is shared.
We don’t want them reduced to this moment as the final paragraph to their story. At this time not much has been shared about these women. It’s understandable during this sensitive time if the families aren’t prepared or ready to release special moments and tender stories with the general public. However, with what has been made public we would like to make sure the world knows these incredible women.
Roberta Drury, 32
Kind. Helpful. Sweet. These are some the words that friends and family use to describe Roberta. One of her closest friends turned adoptive brother Christopher Moyer has made it known to many media outlets that Roberta was not selfish, and always considered the needs of others. Moyer stated that shopping at Tops Market was a regular activity Roberta would do. Often times buying groceries for Moyer and his family because he is recovering from leukemia. In a recent interview with NPR, Moyer stated, “We don’t really have family in the area, so it was just a great help that she could do something for us like that.” Originally from Syracuse, New York and the youngest victim, Drury had settled into Buffalo’s predominately Black neighborhood and immediately became known for her helpful nature and beautiful personality. Rest well young queen.
Geraldine Talley, 62
Known as a kind, warm, and loving Talley was regular customer at Tops Market and was shopping with her fiancé for bologna, iced tea and cheese. Her fiancé, Gregory Allen has stated that they were spending a routine Saturday at the Foot Of Ferry waterfront and stopped in Tops to get items to make a quick lunch. Recalling his experience, Allen mentioned that he and Geraldine( known to family as Gerri) had separated in the store to find their supplies and were supposed to meet back at the register when the gunman started shooting. Talley is being remembered by her loved ones and coworkers as being a sweet spirit, a devoted sister and mother, a second mom to those who needed it, loving the color red, and being an expert baker. Although she could virtually bake anything her speciality was cheesecake and carrot cake. May Geraldine’s love and light continue to shine down on those who cherished her.
Celestine Chaney, 65
An amazing light. Devoted to whatever she set her heart and mind on. A beautiful soul. This is a short sum of what Celestine Chaney meant to her family and friends. On that fateful Saturday Chaney and her older sister JoAnn Daniels entered Tops Market to pick up some shrimp and ingredients to make strawberry shortcake. Daniels recalls that she and her sister where headed to an exit at the back of the store along with others. Although she knew her sister fell Daniels assumed that Chaney got up and was right behind her. It wasn’t until later that day that she learned her younger didn’t make it out via an image of her lying on floor on Facebook. Chaney was known for being a fighter and overcoming any obstacle set before her including surviving breast cancer. In a recent interview with Buffalo News Daniels stated, ” She was a breast cancer survivor and she survived aneurysms in her brain, and then she goes to Tops and gets shot.” Chaney was a loving wife, mother, and devoted church member. Chaney cherished her six grandchildren and one great-grand child. Rest well dear queen.
Katherine Massey, 72
A journalist. A community activist. A kind heart. This is how family, friends, and colleagues describe Katherine Massey. A former journalist for the Buffalo News, Massey has been described as being deeply in love with her community and Black people. In 2018 Massey wrote a striking letter taking the Buffalo Police Department to task advocating and demanding they hire more Black officers that could offer a better understanding of the community and increase trust. This letter would be published in The Challenger News. Always the advocate for change and making her community safe, Massey sent countless letters to local, state, and federal officials urging for change in regards to gun control policies. About one year ago Massey penned a letter that would appear in the Buffalo News calling for legislators to tighten up and crackdown on illegal out-of-state gun trafficking, subscribe to universal background checks, and ban assault weapons. All this was done in hopes of decreasing gun violence in her beloved city and prevent mass shootings. Ultimately the very thing she was fighting to protect her community from would be the very thing she would succumb to. In a recent interview with The New York Times, longtime friend and comrade in fighting for community advocacy, Betty Jean Grant described Massey as “fearless, strong-willed.” May Ms.Massey’s spirit and love for her community carry on for generations to come. Hopefully one day her goal for a safer Buffalo will be realized.
Pearl Young, 77
Devoted to God. Devoted to community service. Devoted to love. This is who Pearl Young was to so many people, including her family. A native of Fayette, Alabama, Young became a Buffalo resident as a young adult when she married a local pastor. For many years she served God and her church family as a faithful member and missionary at Good Samaritan Church Of God In Christ. Every weekend she would serve her community by participating in the Good Samaritan’s food pantry ministry and pass out food to families in need living in the Central Park neighborhood. Young would frequently shop at Tops Market for herself as well as getting items for the food pantry. Ms.Young also was still working at a local high school as a substitute teacher, and was looking forward to receiving her end of school year bonus. Last Saturday Ms. Young was dropped off at Tops after sharing a meal with her sister-in-law so she could pick up a few items. Her son, Damon Young, was unaware of what happened to his mother until he pulled into the parking lot and saw the host of police and first response vehicles. Holding out hope she was apart of the injured police informed Damon that his mother had been identified as one of the deceased. In addition to being a loving mother of three children and eight grand children, Ms.Young was also a devoted fan of long running Daytime soap opera, “The Young And The Restless.” In an interview with The Washington Press, Damon fondly recalled that his mother would make him wait until “The Young And The Restless” had concluded before he could pick her up to do errands. We pray that Ms.Young’s family find joy and comfort in remembering her good nature and being the light that she was in their lives.
Ruth Whitfield, 86
Still caring for and attending to her husband who is living at a nearby nursing home, Ruth Whitfield simply stopped into Tops Market to get something to eat. Devoted in marriage to her husband Garnell Whitfield Sr. for 68 years in a recent interview with USA Today her son, Garnell Whitfield Jr, stated that his father does not know of her passing or the shooting that has occurred. Because of the love and devotion the pair shared the Whitfield’s children are having difficulty finding the heart to tell their father their beloved matriarch is gone. Ms.Whitfield’s children have shared in recent press conferences that their mother was fiercely devoted to her family and that their father worked multiple jobs to ensure their mother was able to stay at home and be the homemaker she aspired to be. Ms.Whitfield leaves behind four children, and multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In addition to her loving heart and gentle spirit, Ms.Whitfield was known for an impeccable macaroni and cheese, her love for fishing and camping, instilling pride in being a Black American and celebrating her ancestry. May she take her well earned rest and place among the ancestors.
In sharing a small snippet of who these women were hopefully we can find a small token of joy, and a morsel of gratitude to what they gave to the Earth. We also hope that in sharing who these amazing women were that we never forget that this was not a victimless crime and was one thousand percent preventable. May the light of their lives and legacies fuel a fire in us to continue the pursuit of justice and the right to live and be who we are.