6 months after Buffalo massacre, some survivors say time has done little to heal

"Basically, you get used to crying."

"Buffalo: Healing From Hate," an ABC News Digital initiative, chronicles the aftermath the racially motivated mass shooting last May at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, NY which claimed the lives of 10 people. This immersive and powerful storytelling experience delves into the personal and difficult journeys of survivors and family members of those killed as they head into their first Thanksgiving since the shooting.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For Geraldine Talley, one of 10 Black people killed in a racially motivated mass shooting in May at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, every week was an excuse for Thanksgiving.

Mark Talley said his 62-year-old mom -- who friends and relatives called "Gerri" -- was known on the east side of Buffalo for her sweet and savory dishes, especially banana pudding cakes.

This Thanksgiving, he intends to memorialize her by doing the two things she enjoyed most: cooking and feeding the hungry.

"She was always having company over," Talley said of his mother. "She would make all the customary Thanksgiving-type foods on a weekly basis."

With his newly created nonprofit Agents for Advocacy, a group formed to fight injustice and promote socioeconomic equity in Buffalo, Talley said he plans to feed 500 people, most of them in the neighborhood where he grew up and his mother died.

In the six months since the May 14 massacre at a Tops market, some survivors and relatives of those killed told ABC News they are taking small steps to recover.

"I wouldn't say it's healing. Basically, you get used to crying," said Garnell Whitfield Jr., a retired Buffalo fire commissioner whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, was killed in the attack.

Please watch Garnell Whitfield Jr.'s full story below:

Coaching his way through the agony

While Talley and Whitfield have thrown themselves into community advocacy to combat racial violence and injustice, others say they are coping with grief by coaching youth football, writing music or focusing on how their loved ones lived. One said returning to work has provided some solace.

Wayne Jones, the only child of 65-year-old Celestine Chaney, who was also killed in the attack, said his saving grace has been coaching youth football.

"Right now, I need them as much as they need me," he said of his team of 9- and 10-year-olds called the Buffalo Gators.

Please watch Wayne Jones' full story below:

He said coaching the players, including his son, has provided him a break from constantly thinking about his mother's slaying.

"Me, I coach to win, but most of my coaching is to raise these young men properly," Jones told ABC News, adding he stresses to his players the importance of getting an education and doing their homework -- traits his mother instilled in him.

On a recent fall Saturday, Jones' team was facing a must-win game to get into the playoffs. After a series of fumbles and a penalty-riddled first half, Jones issued a challenge during a halftime speech. "If we get rid of our mistakes, we're going to win. I guarantee it," he told his 25 players.

The team responded in the second half, scoring with seconds to go in the game and securing a playoff spot with an 8-0 victory.

"I'm just happy for them," he said of his players. "To see them smiling, makes it all worth it.

He said the same half-time pep talk he gave his team could apply to reducing hate in America.

"If we could tone that down, maybe we could stop some things. But it's us versus them, Democrats versus Republicans," Jones said.

Jones said his mother was at Tops shopping for ingredients to make strawberry shortcake. He said a cherished childhood memory was going with her to the store on the first of every month to buy everything needed for her favorite dessert.

"We were poor, so we got food stamps. That was probably the only time we could afford strawberry shortcake," he said. "It's ironic she would die at Tops trying to get that same dish. It's just senseless."

He said his mother's death came after she successfully battled breast cancer and survived three brain aneurysms.

"You wish it's all a dream," he said. "But you wake up and it's not. It's reality. You've just got to live with it."

Healing through work

While some Tops employees who survived the shooting say they still cannot bring themselves to step back inside the store, others like Carlton Steverson are finding work therapeutic.

Please watch Carlton Steverson's full story below:

"Everything's been kind of getting better," said Steverson, who was promoted to assistant deli manager when the east side Tops reopened in July. "I was down at one point in time, but I've been starting to be more motivated and just trying to come to work with a positive attitude."

Steverson, the 29-year-old father of four girls and a son who started working at Tops a month before the mass shooting, was hailed as a hero by the company's management for saving the lives of up to eight co-workers and customers by hiding them in a freezer when the shooting erupted and leading them to safety as the gunfire drew closer.

"I thought about the people that were around me, and that I worked there. I felt that I was the person to guide people," Steverson told ABC News.

John Persons, president of Tops Friendly Markets, praised Steverson's efforts to save lives and said it's been inspiring to see him and his colleagues return to work determined not to allow the alleged gunman to win.

"It lifted our spirits and it helped us as a company move on and start the healing process," Persons told ABC News.

The power of music

But some Tops employees such as Fragrance Harris Stanfield said they're not mentally ready to return to the job.

She was working at the Jefferson Avenue store at the time of the attack along with her 20-year-old daughter and said she had to run for her life. She said she panicked when she became separated from her daughter in the ensuing chaos, and relieved when they were reunited.

Harris Stanfield, who has also not returned to her job as a teacher in the Buffalo public schools, said that since escaping with her life, she has struggled with depression and continues to see a therapist.

She said the symptoms of her trauma include problems sleeping and jumping every time she hears anything remotely resembling gunfire.

"Fireworks are horrible. Thunder is horrible. Rain, knowing thunder could come, is horrible," said Harris Stanfield, the mother of seven children.

Please watch Fragrance Harris Stanfield's full story below:

While she said she is thankful she and her daughter survived, she concedes she has yet to shake the thought a part of her died.

Harris Stanfield is also a musician who goes by the stage name Fragrance of Yah and has produced several albums published online. She said music has been important in her healing process, and she recently wrote and recorded a song titled "As I Cried" about surviving the attack.

"It was a very hard song to write, honestly, because the first line was, 'I started running as I cried. It really felt like I just died,'" she told ABC News.

Prior to the shooting, she said she wrote mostly happy songs and music exploring the subject of love.

"This song was more like an expression," she said. "Like, I need to admit this is how I feel. To say I felt like I just died, and sing that over and over because that's the chorus, is difficult. But I think it helped me deal with the fact that that's the truth.”

Daughter refuses to let attack define her mother

The attack at the Tops market lasted several minutes, enough time for the suspect to fire more than 50 rounds as he stalked the aisles for victims.

In the aftermath of the rampage, Pamela Pritchett, whose 77-year-old mother, Pearl Young, was killed in the massacre, told ABC News she has found comfort in remembering how her mother lived. The devoted wife of a church pastor, a loving mother and grandmother, Young worked as a substitute teacher in the Buffalo public schools and ran a food pantry for her church.

Pritchett said she refuses to allow the May 14 killings "to be the defining moment of who my mother was."

Following an emotional community meeting last month hosted by The Buffalo History Museum to decide how to preserve mementos left at a makeshift memorial outside the Tops store, Pritchett told ABC News she would like history books to emphasize the attack was racially motivated.

"I want to see in the books 30 or 40 years from now the (victims’) names listed,” Pritchett said. “And I want the subject of white supremacy to be discussed.”

Please see the full video story below about a bingo group in Buffalo providing some solace to survivors of the shooting.


Producer & Cinematographer: Alysha Webb
Associate Producer: Jade Lawson
Editors: Benjamin Schellpfeffer, David Kovenetsky, Brian Fudge, Jessie DiMartino & Julian Kim
Senior Producer: Shannon Sanders
Manager, Video Editing: Brian Fudge

Reporter: Bill Hutchinson
Editor: Samara Lynn

Photographer: Malik Rainey
Photo Editors: Phaedra Singelis & Gary Hershorn
Graphics: Kat Stapleton & Kristopher Anderson
Creative Director: Andrew VanWickler

Project Management:
Managing Editor - Video: Kelly Harold
Managing Editor - News: Tom Liddy
Director - Digital Content: Paul Shin
Vice President Digital: Lulu Chiang