Sherri Darlene says her father Robert Ford visits Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., nearly every day, just to pickup “little things.” It happens so often that it’s become a bit of a family joke.
The 74-year-old was on his way there Saturday when he stopped to see if his friend Larry wanted to join him, according to his daughter, who lives across the border in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Darlene said her phone started ringing around the same time, with people telling her there had been a mass shooting in the city she was born in and she should check in with her loved ones.
“My heart just dropped and I immediately called my father,” said Darlene.
Ford told her what had happened.
“We got to talking on the porch and the next thing you know we heard sirens,” she recalled he father saying.
He came “that close,” to being there at the same time, she said during a video interview with CBC Sunday morning, holding her fingers just an inch apart. “That close.”
Officials say a white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at a supermarket in Buffalo, killing 10 people and wounding three others Saturday in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.”
Police said he shot 11 Black victims and two white victims before surrendering to authorities in a rampage he broadcast live on the streaming platform Twitch.
Darlene has family who live in the neighbourhood where the shooting happened and described the supermarket as the “Blackest Tops in Buffalo.” On a Saturday afternoon it would have been crowded with shoppers, especially the elderly, she said.
“This is my backyard and it’s way too close to home. It’s so scary and so heartbreaking,” she said.
Darlene said over the past 24 hours, members of the Black community in Buffalo have shared their anger and frustration, calling the shooting a “reality check.”
“I need white people to wake up,” said Darlene, who is also the founder of the Niagara-based Justice 4 Black Lives.
“We’re tired of you telling us that we’re in your thoughts. We’re tired of you feeling sorry for us. What we want you to do is acknowledge that white supremacy is the biggest threat in this country today.”
Darlene moved to Niagara from Buffalo when she was two. Most of her family still lives there and she said she visits regularly, adding when she’s in the city, she’s at the Tops where the shooting happened “all the time.”
Strong ties connect communities across the border
Her family is an example of the deep connections between Buffalo and the Canadian cities across the border; connections she says date back to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
Fort Erie, Ont., Mayor Wayne Redekop also emphasizes the link his community shares with the city directly across the Niagara River.
“There are close family ties between our two communities, not to mention the deep friendships among our residents and those in Buffalo,” he wrote in a text message to CBC on Sunday.
“In many respects, we are one large community, connected by our history, geography and culture.”
Redekop said people in Fort Erie are “horrified” by what happened and grieving, calling “the knowledge that the shooter was racially motivated … extremely troubling.”
Shocked & terribly saddened to learn of the mass shooting at the supermarket just over the river. Our hearts are with you, Buffalo.
Flags are being lowered to half-mast in Niagara Falls, Ont., just a short drive away, and the city’s mayor said there are plans to light the falls in honour of those who were killed.
“Our hearts are broken after learning what happened in Buffalo,” wrote Jim Diodati in a statement, describing Buffalo as a “neighbour” and adding he has contacted its mayor, Byron Brown, to “offer support from their friends in Canada.”
Torn between heartbreak and anger
Darlene says more than support is needed.
“Black people literally walk around with a target on their back and it’s constantly being minimized,” she said. “We have to call this what it is, this is straight up terrorism and it’s against Black people.”
Saleh Waziruddin, a member of the executive for the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association, shared a similar sentiment.
He said the mass shooting is further evidence white supremacy needs to be taken seriously and more resources should be put toward investigating it, both in the U.S. and Canada.
“Everybody’s horrified,” he said. “This is something really extreme, but we know it could happen anywhere and I think it could happen here in Canada as well.”
Darlene said she’s been on “pins and needles” for the past 24 hours, as more is revealed about the shooter and the people he killed.
Tension in the community is high right now, according to her father, torn between heartbreak and anger that Black people have been targeted yet again.
“The youth, they just don’t know what to do because it’s almost like standing on the top of the mountain screaming, for years and years and years,” said Darlene. “What exactly is it going to take?”