'Hurts': Loved ones of Buffalo massacre victims brace for Mother's Day a year after shooting

"My mom loved us unconditionally," said Garnell Whitfield Jr.

May 9, 2023, 6:09 AM

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For Wayne Jones, holidays have been tough to get through since a white supremacist teenager gunned down his 65-year-old mother, Celestine Chaney, and nine other Black people as they shopped at the Tops store on Buffalo's east side a year ago this week.

"My mom was in my corner for whatever, for better or worse," Jones told ABC News.

PHOTO: Wayne Jones poses in this undated photo with his 65-year-old mother, Celestine Chaney, who was killed in the May 14, 2022, mass shooting at a Tops store in Buffalo, New York.
Wayne Jones poses in this undated photo with his 65-year-old mother, Celestine Chaney, who was killed in the May 14, 2022, mass shooting at a Tops store in Buffalo, New York.Enable Ginger Cannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection or reload the browserDisable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger×Enable Ginger Cannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection or reload the browserDisable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger×
Courtesy of Wayne Jones

Last weekend, Jones and his family celebrated what would have been his mother's 66th birthday, laying fresh flowers at her grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo and releasing heart-shaped balloons and doves into a clear blue sky.

But Sunday is Mother's Day -- a year to the day after the May 14, 2022 massacre. Jones is bracing himself, gathering with relatives to commemorate the day.

Loved ones of Celestine Chaney, who was killed in the Buffalo massacre, celebrate what would have been her 66th birthday on May 6, 2022, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.
Courtesy of Wayne Jones

"That's what hurts, when I see somebody hugging their mother, like another family member. I don't have that anymore," Jones said.

Jones said he feels as down as he did last summer when he first spoke with ABC News.

"I don't feel any better," he said. "I'm dealing with it. But I dealt with it when it happened. I don't cry as much. But I can be riding in the car and tears will start falling down my face or I hear a certain song that reminds me of my mom."

Even the sight of strawberry shortcake, which his mom was buying when she was murdered, can cause his emotions to bubble up, he said.

Celestine Chaney was among four mothers who were killed at Tops -- an event that tore families apart and decimated Buffalo's east side community.

For Jones and others, the love and wisdom their mothers instilled in them will sustain them through this Mother's Day as they simultaneously celebrate and mourn, they said.

Jones, who was Chaney's only child, said the biggest lesson he learned from his mom was the one that came to him after her death -- "Don't take the days for granted."

"A lot of those times when my mom would call and I'd be busy, I would look at the phone and say, 'I'll call her back later.' That's one of my regrets. That was just a phone call and I haven't talked to her since," Jones said. "I don't take that for granted anymore. I pick up for my grandfather and my dad every time now."

'Unconditional love'

Garnell Whitfield Jr., a retired Buffalo fire commissioner, said he is grateful he spent the last full day of his 86-year-old mother's life with her, building her a raised flower bed as a Mother's Day gift. His mom, Ruth Whitfield, was among those killed when she stopped at Tops to buy seeds for her new garden after caring for her husband of 68 years at a nursing home.

PHOTO: Gernell Whitfield Jr.
Garnell Whitfield Jr.
Malik Rainey/ABC News

"I think about what my mother went through in that store. I think about what my mother must have been thinking about when she realized what was going on," Whitfield told ABC News. "And the crazy thing is, I believe she was thinking about us. She was thinking about her husband. That's what she always thought about."

On Mother's Day, he said he'll honor his mom and commemorate her death by practicing the most important lesson she imparted to him -- "to love."

"My mom loved us unconditionally. That may sound cliche, but it's something that until you have experienced it, until you understand what that means, you just don't know," said Whitfield, who, along with his brother, Raymond Whitfield, have started the nonprofit group Pursuit of tRuth, to combat white supremacy. "My mother's love is the closest thing I've experienced to the love of God in my life."

The extrovert

Mark Talley said that after his 62-year-old mother, Geraldine "Gerri" Talley was murdered, his relatives wanted him to take her place as the leader of their family. But Talley described himself as an "introvert" compared to his mom.

"She was the one calling up everybody, checking up on everybody, just constantly talking," the 33-year-old Talley told ABC News.

But Talley said he's been trying to be more outgoing, like his mother, since starting his own nonprofit group, Agents for Advocacy, to fight injustice and promote socioeconomic equity in Buffalo in the aftermath of the 5/14 massacre.

This undated photo shows Mark Talley posing at his college graduation with his mother, Geraldine "Gerri" Talley, who was killed in the May 14, 2022, racially motivated mass shooting at a Tops store in Buffalo, New York.
Courtesy of Mark Talley

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Sometimes you don't choose the life that chooses you," Talley said. "My mother necessarily wasn't afraid to speak up. With me, I'm more introverted, but I think people need to be verbally pressed to, hopefully, make change."

Talley said he plans to release a book this month he wrote titled, "5/14: The Day the Devil Came to Buffalo."

In the book, he writes about the things he would have done differently on May 14, 2022, had he known his mother was going to be killed.

"I would’ve stopped by her house and told her how much I love her," he writes. "I would’ve thanked her for raising me as a single parent. I would’ve hugged her tight and apologized for being such a bull-headed kid growing up. And most importantly, I would’ve slashed the tires on her car to keep her home that day or waited for her killer in the store’s parking lot and beat his face with his own rifle -- disfigure him so badly he'd look like a bucket of chitlins, and no one would question the reason for a closed casket at his funeral."

The 'matriarch'

Barbara Massey Mapps said her 72-year-old big sister, Katherine "Kat" Massey, never had children of her own, but her many nieces and nephews considered her a second mom. She said her sister, in essence, adopted the children in the Buffalo Public Schools, secretly sending pizzas to classrooms, purchasing books and classroom supplies to give to children in her family and others in need.

"She loved kids in general, but Buffalo city kids, all 34,000, those were her children," Mapps said of her sister, who worked for 40 years for the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance company.

Kat Massey
Courtesy of Massey Family

As a child, Damone Mapps, 46, Barbara Massey Mapps' oldest son, said his Aunt Kat, would take him and his cousins on weekly educational excursions.

"She used to take us to art school to do drawing and arts and crafts. We'd go to the Chinese Theater that used to be downtown," Damone Mapps, told ABC News. "She tried to get us into everything, the library, the museums. Sometimes she would drive, sometimes we'd all be on the bus together."

He added, "Now we all have kids and she would still implement the same thing she gave us as kids to our kids."

In honor of Kat Massey, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield established an annual scholarship to go to a graduating Buffalo public high school student to help pay for higher education.

Barbara Massey Mapps stands in the living room of her sister Katherine "Kat" Massey's home in Buffalo, New York. Her sister was among 10 Black people killed in a racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14, 2022.
Malik Rainey for ABC News

Barbara Massey Mapps, 65, said her sister was "the matriarch" of their family, instilling in her and her siblings the lessons she learned from their parents.

"We were brought up to respect our elders, to do the right thing," she told ABC News. "We were brought up to help one another and we were brought up to love people."

Even after her death, Kat Massey continued to influence her family to do the right thing, leaving behind a letter for her siblings to read in the event of her death.

"I know you will go forth, joined as a family team, as always," Kat Massey wrote in the letter shared with ABC News by her family. "Our family's mega concern, unity and love are the greatest things imaginable. Remember the countless great times and laughter we have shared together. Thank you, all my guardians!!"

She underlined one final piece of advice, writing, "Don't none of you be wimps either!!"