Buffalo supermarket rededicated 2 months after mass shooting left 10 dead
A moment of silence was held Thursday and the victims names were read.
Two months after a white teenager allegedly killed 10 Black people in what authorities described as a racially motivated mass shooting, the renovated Buffalo, New York, supermarket where the rampage occurred was rededicated Thursday afternoon in an emotional ceremony.
The Jefferson Avenue store's official reopening on Friday comes after a moment of silence and prayer service on Thursday in which the names of the victims were read out loud. A firefighter rang a silver bell after the name of each victim was read.
The moment of silence was lead by Buffalo City Councilman Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. at 2:30 p.m., marking the time the mass shooting began on May 14.
The ceremony also included an emotionally stirring dance performance by a member of the African American Cultural Center in Buffalo.
Pat Patterson, an employee of the Buffalo Tops store, read a poem titled "Water" by Jillian Hansworth, the poet laureate of Buffalo, who attended Thursday's ceremony. The poem is inscribed on a water wall memorial constructed inside the store honoring the victims.
"This is the day when we declare that hate did not win, that hate was defeated, that hate has no place in east Buffalo or Buffalo, or in the great state of New York," New York State Attorney General Letitia James told the crowd of dignitaries, store workers, community members and loved ones of those killed during the ceremony.
The store has undergone extensive renovations to repair the damage left by the mass shooting, in which the suspected gunman fired more than 60 shots from a high-powered, AR-15-style rifle, killing people inside and outside the Jefferson Avenue store and leaving three wounded.
Tops president John Persons began his remarks by thanking the first responders, including police officers, who rushed to the store to treat the injured and take the alleged 18-year-old gunman into custody.
"The only way that I know to recover from such heartache really is through love and gratitude," Persons said. "People in Western New York came together in such amazing ways after that hateful attack."
About 75% of the employees who worked at the Jefferson Avenue store at the time of the shooting have returned to work, which Person said is "a testament to their resiliency." He said a number of additional hires since the shooting are former employees who asked to come back and work at the store.
He said the employees have now adopted the mantra "Jefferson strong" as a phrase "to regularly remind themselves and all of us that they will not let adversity and evil beat them."
Persons said that by redesigning and rebuilding the store, Tops is renewing a commitment it made 20 years ago when the market first opened "to serve the needs of the community."
"We moved quickly to pursue a complete and expedicted renovation with the goal of providing a store that will serve the community even better than it did before," Persons said.
Persons said the store has been remodeled with an entirely different look.
"This new store will provide more space for produce, organic options, fresh foods, personal care products and, importantly, community collaborations for nutrition education and health screenings," he said. "It will become an ever greater resource to combat local food insecurity and support health and wellness. And as we solemnly open this renovated store to the public tomorrow, our commitment grows deeper. Our mission has a renewed sense of purpose."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown described the store as "sacred ground."
"Ten precious, beautiful members of our community had their lives taken, three others injured. We will never ever forget them," Brown said.
The store was turned back over to Tops after investigators spent five days combing through it for evidence. FBI officials said investigators used state-of-the-art, scene-scanning tools, spherical and drone photography, conducted a bullet trajectory analysis of the shooting and reconstructed the shooting while the store was declared a crime scene.
During a May 19 news conference, Persons promised the community that the store would "open it in a respectful manner for our associates, our employees and for the community at large."
The market has served as a vital part of the east Buffalo neighborhood, local leaders said. In the predominantly Black neighborhood, which has struggled to thrive after years of historic segregation and divestment, residents said the area’s lone grocery store has been a central resource and gathering place providing access to fresh food and medicine. One Buffalo city councilman described the store to ABC News as "an oasis in the middle of a food desert."
Investigators said the suspected shooter, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, allegedly targeted the store after conducting reconnaissance on it for at least two months.
Gendron drove three hours from his home in Conklin, New York, a day before the shooting and allegedly spent time conducting a final reconnaissance on the store before allegedly committing the mass shooting on a Saturday afternoon.
Authorities allege Gendron stormed the store wielding a Bushmaster XM-15 .223-caliber rifle and dressed in military fatigues, body armor and wearing a tactical helmet with a camera attached. Gendron allegedly livestreamed the attack on the gaming website Twitch before the company took down the live feed two minutes into the shooting.
Among those killed was 55-year-old Aaron Salter Jr., a retired Buffalo police officer who was working as a security guard at the supermarket. Authorities said Salter fired at the gunman, but the bullets had no effect due to the bulletproof vest the suspect wore.
Gendron was indicted on 25 counts, including 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon. He is also the first person in New York history charged with domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a crime enacted in November 2020.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Gendron has also been charged with 26 federal counts, including 10 counts of committing a hate crime resulting in death. He has yet to enter a plea to the federal charges.
Federal prosecutors have not yet announced whether they will seek the death penalty in the case.