BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Families of the 10 people killed in the racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket last May spoke Wednesday before the shooter’s sentencing in state court, where he received multiple life sentences.
Many of those who gave statements at the sentencing grappled with the idea of forgiveness and expressed that they did not want the shooter to receive the death penalty – they’d rather see him spend his life in prison and never stop thinking about the lives he took on May 14, 2022.
The speakers discussed how the shooting irreparably damaged their families, sharing emotional stories of how birthdays, holidays, and other family get-togethers will be forever altered by the shooting.
Dealing with forgiveness is where some opinions disagreed. Some family members said they have found no choice but to forgive the shooter, while others, like Zeneta Everhart, said they will never forgive him.
“The world says you have to forgive in order to move on, but I stand before you today to say that will never happen,” said Everhart, whose son was shot while at work but survived. “Forgiveness to me puts this tragedy on the laps of the victims, and I nor my son will accept the responsibility of his terroristic act. This is his and his alone. It is he who will have to ask for forgiveness.”
Below, a summary of each of the impact statements can be read and watched in full. They are arranged starting with family members of the victims killed in the shooting, followed by the statements from a survivor and the families of the other two surviving victims. Also included is a statement from Erie County Assistant District Attorney Justin Caldwell on behalf of Heyward Patterson.
Content warning: Some of the following videos contain language some may consider obscene.
Family of Aaron Salter
Kimberly Salter, the widow of Aaron Salter — the security guard killed while attempting to defend the store during the shooting — began the victim impact statements with quotes from the Bible.
“My family and I are here this morning and we wear red and black,” she began. “Red for the blood he shed for his family and for his community and black because we are still grieving.”
She continued, reading from John 3:16 and Psalm 35.
Family of Ruth Whitfield
Simone Crowley, the granddaughter of Ruth Whitfield, spoke on behalf of all of Whitfield’s grandchildren.
“Our grandmother went to buy seeds for her garden on May 14, 2022. She may not have been able to plant those seeds, but the seeds she planted throughout her life are abundant.”
Crowley recalled her fondest memories of her grandmother, from Sunday dinners to fishing and camping trips, and sleepovers.
“We find strength in knowing that her legacy will outlive you,” Crowley said, addressing the shooter directly. “You will simply go from a name to a number. You will be herded like cattle. You will be shut away from the world. You will not enjoy family events, you will not enjoy outings with friends. You will be nameless and faceless and we feel sorry for you. We pity you, even.”
Crowley said that the shooter’s lack of value on his own life led him to not value the lives of others.
“You still have failed to break our family spirit,” she continued. “You thought you broke us, but you awoke us.”
She then spoke on behalf of the Black community.
“We all know the pure hatred and motivations behind your heinous crime,” she said. “We will continue to elevate and be everything that you are not, everything that you hate, and everything that you intended to destroy.”
She continued, addressing others who she would like to be held accountable.
“You are a cowardly racist,” she said. “Every single person that has been instrumental in molding you and supporting you and informing you, aiding and supplying weapons, needs to be held accountable and not protected as they have been.”
Crowley addressed the “larger organized network of domestic terrorists,” saying the Black community is unbreakable and that Ruth Whitfield taught her family the power of love, and ensured that Whitfield’s legacy will be one of love.
Family of Celestine Chaney
Wayne Jones, the son of Celestine Chaney then stepped forward.
“I watched you kill my mom. I watched you on the internet. I watched you shoot her once, reload, and shoot again,” Jones said. “I just want you to remember that name and what you did.”
He read the names of the victims and then names of some of those whose lives have been changed forever — names of his family members.
“You took from us a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend,” he said. “Behind your senseless act, we will never have another birthday, another get-together, another celebration … another call on the phone like we often liked to do. … Think about what a beautiful person you took.”
Jones addressed the shooter’s relationship with his parents.
“I don’t know what your relationship(s) with your parents are, but I’m a parent and I feel sorry for your parents,” he said. “You will never get to hug them again, like I won’t. You will never get to hug your parents again. You will never see the outside world again.”
Later, Jones told the defendant that he feels sorry for the defendant’s mother.
“I feel sorry for your mother. Your mother — I don’t have mine — but your mother, she’s dying inside for what you’ve done. She can’t even pick her head up.”
He also spoke on the shooter’s future.
“I don’t wish the death penalty on you,” he said. “I hope they keep you alive so you have to suffer with the thought of what you did for the rest of your life. To me, killing you is the easy way out.”
Like Crowley, Jones also addressed the shooter’s indoctrination through the internet.
“You’ve been brainwashed. The internet is the issue,” he said. “You’re only 18, you don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet.”
Family of Roberta Drury
Leslie VanGieson, mother of Roberta Drury — the youngest victim killed in the shooting — spoke next.
“Robbi was our youngest daughter. When people ask, ‘How many children do you have?’ I don’t know what to say,” she said.
She spoke on how May 14 and August 11 — Drury’s birthday — have been changed forever for her family, as has the Christmas season, with Drury’s stocking serving as a constant reminder of her death.
“Today, when I think of Robbi, I don’t think of her like this,” she said, holding up a baby photo of Drury. “She was a beautiful girl. I think of her, alone, laying on the pavement for hours. I’ve never been able to see or touch her after that day. I have been profoundly changed.”
VanGieson said that her life view has been changed and spoke on how the shooting has affected her family.
“Robbi’s family — my family — has been permanently damaged and there is no punishment that will ever reverse our loss.”
Family of Geraldine Talley
Geraldine Talley’s niece, Tamika Harper, said she was on her way to the store when the shooting happened.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember May 14,” she said. “And being two minutes sooner, I could’ve been in that store. And all I think about is, ‘Could I have saved my aunt? Could I have helped her get away from the bullets? Or would my mom be suffering more and lose her daughter, her granddaughter, and her sister?'”
Harper said that the pain she felt when Talley was killed “will never even compare” to burying her own child at 19.
“Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life. Every day of your life, think about my family and the other nine families that you’ve destroyed forever.”
May 14 is Harper’s granddaughter’s birthday.
“My granddaughter will never be able to celebrate her birthday on May 14,” she said. “It hurts so bad.”
Talley’s brother-in-law, Brian Talley, spoke later in the trial, addressing the shooter by name.
“Payton Gendron. Payton Gendron. The reason I’m mentioning your name is because so many people have spoke about it, not to say anything, not to mention your name,” he said. “But you need to be known. You need to be known worldwide.”
Brian Talley said he watched the video and questioned what the shooter could say after live-streaming the shooting.
“It was like a video game to you,” he said. “What can you possibly say to anybody? Your words don’t mean anything. After this [impact statement], I’m leaving, because I don’t want to hear what you have to say. It doesn’t make a difference.”
Talley cited Willie Lynch’s “The Making of a Slave,” detailing how the strongest slaves were literally ripped apart as an example to other slaves.
“You did that to us,” he said. “You came into the biggest part, the strongest part of the Black community, and you ripped us apart.”
Talley questioned how the shooter could be sorry when he planned the whole shooting.
“I watched my sister-in-law get shot by you, I watched it,” Brian Talley said. “I went into Tops a couple times and every time I go in there, the only thing [that] plays out in my mind is, ‘Where you walk, where you shop — what you did. The hatred that you must have in your heart for Black people, I will never understand, I don’t want to understand it.”
He also said he is against the death penalty and he hopes the shooter has to think about the lives he took while in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.
“Can you imagine: You wake up on a Sunday morning and you’re going shopping, and you’re going shopping on a graveyard? Because that’s what Tops is now, it’s a graveyard,” he said. “And if you look at the community right now on Jefferson Avenue, after all the hype and everything, nothing has changed. And as a matter of fact, it’s gotten even worse.”
Talley said he forgives the shooter, not for the shooter’s sake, but for his own sake and for the Black community.
“I will never forget your name,” he said. “I will always remember your face, I will never, ever forget you.”
Family of Katherine Massey
“I’m not going to be nice,” Katherine Massey’s sister Barbara Massey said as she approached the podium to give her impact statement. She stood facing the shooter, addressing him directly for the duration of the statement.
“Kat would do anything for anybody, anytime,” she said. “Kat was intelligent, she was a teacher, she was my best friend, she was anything at any given time. Kat was a protector. If Kat saw you, she probably would’ve went in her pocket and gave you some money, even though you didn’t need it.”
She walked through the shooter’s process the day of the shooting.
“You leave, 200 miles to come to Buffalo, you don’t even know any Black people,” she said. “95.7 — that’s what [demographic numbers regarding white people] said for the census in your town. You don’t know any Indians or Mexicans — nobody. But your little punk ass decided to come and kill my sister. I talked to Kat every single day. Kat didn’t have any children but she said she had 34,000 — that was the number of kids in school.”
Barbara said Kat would do anything for anybody and that cutting other people’s grass is what made her sister happy, which is what Barbara was doing when Kat was killed.
“I was there eight hours with my family, begging the cops, ‘Is my sister OK?’ You blew off her f***ing back of her head, man,” she said.
Barbara said she lived three doors down from her sister and she misses her every day.
“You’re going to come to our city and decide you don’t like Black people, man. You don’t know a damn thing about Black people; we’re human,” she said. “We like our kids to go to good schools, we love our kids.”
At this moment of Massey’s statement, a man rushed the shooter, who was escorted out of the courtroom by police.
Family of Pearl Young and Margus Morrison
Michelle Spight, the niece of Pearl Young and cousin of Margus Morrison, spoke on behalf of both sides of her family on Wednesday.
“What are the chances that two of your family members would be in the same place, from two different sides of your family?” Spight asked. “This is the first time I’ve really had to process this for myself, as I’ve been an advocate for my families that couldn’t be as strong to speak for themselves.”
She addressed the shooter’s “calculated” diatribe.
“You started on a street that I grew up on,” she told the shooter. “You journeyed down my grandmother’s street and then wound up at Tops and killed two of my family members.”
Spight then read a statement written by Pamela Young, Pearl’s daughter.
“You didn’t shoot her once, but you turned around and shot her two times,” Spight said while reading the statement.
Pamela Young said the gunshot wounds prevented the family from having a viewing following her mother’s death. She recalled the final time she viewed the body — that her face had no semblance and her wedding ring wouldn’t fit on her finger because of how much her body was distorted.
“I am jealous of my friends and family because they can remember the beauty of her smile and I grapple with my final image,” the statement read.
Pamela Young’s statement then continued, speaking to what an inspiration her mother was, how she watched her earn her degree at the University at Buffalo. Spight read additional memories of Pamela’s from the letter, more of which she wrote in her journal.
“Two minutes and three seconds won’t steal those memories, but Payton, I hope you are haunted every day and every night. I hope nightmares invade your sleep and conviction be your constant companion,” Young said in the statement. “You came to Buffalo with hatred and anger in your heart, you terrorized a community, took the life of my best friend, but your anger and hatred is not greater than my love for my mother.”
Spight also read a statement written by Margus Morrison’s brother, Fred, on behalf of him and his 72-year-old mother, and the rest of their family. Spight sarcastically thanked the shooter for Morrison’s mother having to bury her son on her birthday.
“I never imagined my best friend — my only [remaining] brother — one who I shared holidays, birthdays, football gamedays, and most remarkably, our most precious gift we share in our mom,” Fred Morrison said in his statement. “Now, all mom and I have left are a million questions of, ‘Why?’ tons of lifeless pictures, and a plethora of distant memories and countless tears of insurmountable pain.”
Spight sarcastically thanked the shooter again, then continued speaking Fred Morrison’s words, which read how he struggles to live without his brother.
“Margus and I were inseparable,” the statement said. “Margus was the middle son, the only living brother I had. The one that fiercely protected me and my mother. He was preceded in death by my eldest brother, who died suddenly from a heart attack.”
Morrison spoke to his paranoia while walking through stores and restlessness at night.
“No mother should have to bury their child, but my mother buried her son Margus on her 72nd birthday. And Margus’ daughter buried her dad on her 16th birthday,” Morrison said, through Spight.
The statement also addressed the shooter’s arrest.
“The fact that you were surrounded by white officers after you casually surrendered while my brother’s blood drained from his body is a testament to society. We have a long way to go. And some people’s blood is just not as important as others, thus the reason you lived. And you have the privilege of being protected.”
Family of Andre Mackniel, Sr.
Deja Brown, the daughter of Andre Mackniel, Sr., gave an impact statement for her dad.
Mackniel was at Tops that day to pick up a cake for his son, who had just turned 3.
“He went to that store to get a cake for my little brother,” Brown said while looking at the shooter. “May 14 is his birthday — my little brother’s birthday — and he turned 3 years old and he didn’t get to celebrate his birthday with his dad because he never came back.”
Brown also detailed how she made Mackniel promise her to stay on top of his health after his brother died, because she didn’t want to lose him.
“I would be lost without him, because I finally found somebody who understood me to a T,” she said. “We thought a lot alike and even though he had to be dad before a friend, I always respected everything he said. He was so wise and he made the world easier to live in.”
She said that when she was around him, she loved tagging along.
“The one time he leaves without me, he doesn’t come back,” she said. “After this happened, I constantly beat myself up about him going, and I’m still pissed off because he wasn’t given a chance to fight. He was blindsided. You hit him and he didn’t even know he got hit.”
Brown called the shooter “a selfish boy” and said he was obviously not educated on the history of African Americans.
“I hate you. And I didn’t think I’d be strong enough to look you in the face and tell you this and how much you hurt me, my little brother who’s 3 years old and has got to grow up without his dad,” she said. “Our dad, the man who created us, was killed by a little boy, who was obviously raised by hateful people. And I hate your parents, too, so let them know that.”
She said nothing can change how she feels and that she will never forgive him for murdering her father.
Vyonne Elliott, Mackniel’s brother also spoke Wednesday. Mackniel was less than a year older than Elliott.
“Payton, you took this from me. You took the last of my line,” Elliott said. “My mother died three days before 9/11, my baby brother died in 2017. My father died in 2017. I’m all that’s left except my baby sister. But what I grew up with, you took from me.”
Elliott said Mackniel took care of him when he was homeless while discussing what he meant to him. He then addressed the shooter.
“As an 18-year-old, I don’t know how you could even continue on, I don’t know who talked you into it.”
Elliott said he knows a lot of 18-year-old white boys — “Friends of mine, I call them ‘the little homies,’ and none of them are racist … so I’m confused on how you got past everybody with your ideology and all this nonsense.”
He told the shooter that he has “protectors,” but they won’t be around when he goes to prison.
“Where you’re going, I’ve been, and your own kind is going to get you,” Elliott said. “Everything you think you know about prison and everything they’ve told you is a lie. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
Family of Zaire Goodman
Zeneta Everhart, the mother of shooting survivor Zaire Goodman — who was working at the Tops store at the time of the shooting discussed her son’s injuries and the actions of the shooter.
She spoke on how Goodman was shot in the neck, with bullet fragments exiting his back.
“Over last several months, his life has been all about going to the doctor, seeing therapists, and trying to make peace with knowing that someone came into his community and tried to kill him because of the color of his skin.”
Everhart talked about her son’s mindset in the time since the shooting.
“[He] questioned why his life was spared, when 10 others did not survive. It is an understatement to say he has survivor’s guilt. He is dealing with the pain that I, as a mother, cannot heal,” she said. “Racism, hatred and white supremacy are lifestyles that are chosen. On that day, Zaire chose to get up and go to work and that terrorist chose to drive a few hundred miles to shoot and kill 10 people and seriously injure three others.”
Everhart said that the value of a Black human meant nothing to the shooter on May 14.
“The disregard he has for human life and the callousness to which he carried out this attack on my son and my community not only a monster, but a coward,” she said. “Only a weak human takes out their pain on others.”
She then said she will never forgive the shooter, that it is not the responsibility of the victims and their families to forgive, but rather, the onus is on the defendant to ask for forgiveness.
“This is his and his alone,” she said. “As he lay in his cell late at night, when he can’t sleep, I hope he is thinking of the 10 lives he stole from us.”
Family of Jennifer Warrington
Stephanie Waters, the sister of Jennifer Warrington, who survived the attack, spoke about the moment she learned of the shooting and her panic in the moments that followed.
Waters said that a few hours after a Zoom call with members of an anti-racism group to which she belongs, she called Warrington.
“She answered the phone. She said, ‘Steph, I’m in an ambulance, I’ve been shot in the head. If I die, please be there for my children. A lot of people have been killed. Please ask everyone that we know to pray.’ I begged her to stay on the phone, not knowing if I would ever speak to her again.”
After the call, Waters went to the airport. She said she received a call from her nephew, who told her the shooting was done by a white supremacist and that it was live-streamed. Her reaction on the plane caused a delay on takeoff.
“I roared, also in pain for my brothers and sisters who do not look like me or like the defendant,” Waters, who is white, said. “I roared in pain because he bought into the lies of this country: that somehow, because of the amount of the chemical in our skin, we are superior. We were not even the first ones here in the U.S., OK?”
Waters said her mother and late father, in addition to her sister, worked on the East Side of Buffalo to serve those who need help.
She then asked the judge to restrict the defendant from using social media for the rest of his life.
Christopher Braden, who was shot just above his knee on May 14, spoke on his own behalf. It was the first time he had spoken publicly. He discussed the physical effects, as well as the psychological effects, the shooting has had on him.
Braden said he has permanently lost feeling from his knee to his toe, spending 10 days in the hospital, receiving four surgeries, with two still to go.
“The injuries I sustained were severe, but I remained conscious and coherent the entire time,” he said. “I unfortunately saw a few victims being killed. As I was being taken out of the store after the shooting was over, I saw all the victims where they lay.”
He said that loud noises bother him and he is always on edge and hyper-vigilant.
“Visions haunt me in my sleep every night, and most days,” Braden said. “I cannot get those memories out of my head. Nighttime is the worst for my PTSD, I have night terrors that jerk me awake in the middle of the night and I am unable to calm back down to go to sleep.”
He said his foot no longer works properly without a brace.
“You haven’t taken away my will to live, you haven’t broken my spirit,” he told the shooter.
On behalf of Heyward Patterson
Deacon Heyward Patterson’s family did not wish to speak or write a statement for the sentencing because of the emotional difficulty of the process. When ADA Caldwell stepped to the podium, he delivered a brief statement on behalf of the family.
“Heyward Patterson’s family members did not wish to speak today and did not write a victim impact letter,” Caldwell said. “Nonetheless, I can assure this court that their reluctance to speak or write a letter is because of how difficult this process is, which everybody has seen today. Everyone who was in Tops on May 14 of 2022 or knew someone who was killed on that day experienced trauma that is not easy to speak about.”
“Their absence is not an indication that they don’t care about the outcome or have simply moved on. In actuality, it’s an indication that they are still recovering and learning to cope, and cannot bring themselves to confront the defendant or even articulate their feelings in a letter.”
Caldwell also noted that people in Tops were praying they wouldn’t be a victim, that at any point in the shooter’s three-hour drive, he could’ve turned around, but didn’t, as his goal was to kill as many Black people as possible.
He said the only time the shooter expressed regret was for shooting Braden — a white man — and added that he wholeheartedly believes the shooter’s only regret was not killing more Black people.
Caldwell concluded by asking the judge to give the shooter life without parole — the maximum sentence in New York State.
Latest news on the mass shooting
- 5/14 Memorial Commission adds new members, begins planning
- No federal trial date set for Buffalo mass shooter, defense continues to go over evidence
- Zeneta Everhart announces run for Buffalo Common Council seat
- Mental health experts warn of triggers, re-traumatization of community after sentencing of Tops mass shooter
- Tops mass shooter to appear in federal court one day after sentencing
Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.