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Buffalo mourns ‘star in the midst of turmoil’ killed in racist attack


BUFFALO — Amy Pilc never socialized with Heyward Patterson, a jitney driver at the grocery store where she often shopped.

Ms Pilc watched Mr Patterson, 67, help older customers with their shopping bags, appearing to take deep pleasure in such a small act. Some days she would go to the market multiple times, spotting his smile on each trip.

Her spirit got her thinking, she says, about the good she could do in her own life.

It wasn’t until Mr. Patterson was killed in a racist grocery store massacre last week that Ms. Pilc learned that, like so many others in the Masten Park neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side, she had a little personal connection with him: he was her goddaughter’s great-uncle.

“That’s why I came,” Ms Pilc, 46, said in an interview outside Mr Patterson’s funeral at Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church on Friday morning. “It’s such a small world here, and he didn’t deserve it. None of them deserved it. »

Friday’s service was the first of 10 for 10 black people who came to the Jefferson Avenue supermarket, Tops, for their own personal daily missions – a shift, a supply run for dinner, a trip to buy a cake from birthday for a 3-year-old son – but whose lives ended together.

Mr Patterson’s family have asked that reporters not enter the ward. But hundreds of visitors from across New York state descended on Buffalo on Friday to mourn the death of their friend, a deacon at the State Tabernacle Church of God whose greetings at the main entrance brightened the days of congregants. .

Deacon Patterson, as he was known, would take a few bucks to provide rides from the tops of Masten Park, a poorer section where many residents lack cars and rely on tight-knit circles of neighbors for help. Almost every day, he would load his Ford Fusion with shopping bags, drive customers home, then renew the trip, helping the next neighbor in need. Even for those who never exchanged words with him, he was woven into the fabric of the community.

“He was a shining star amid the turmoil,” said Clyde Haslam, 66, who attended kindergarten with Mr Patterson and has been his friend ever since.

“We’ve been through so much,” Mr. Haslam added. “But no matter the ups and downs, he was always smiling. And so we have to smile here today.

For Mr Patterson – Tenny or Boy Tenny to his family and friends – the Tops store in Masten Park was like a second ministry. He was killed in the store parking lot while practicing another of his duties: packing groceries in someone else’s car.

It was a way for him to earn some money, but it also reflected a characteristic that those close to him said guided him: the desire to help others. The trait was as evident in his volunteer work at his church’s soup kitchen on Glenwood Avenue as in his shepherd’s shopping at the market.

“As tragic as it sounds, it happened while he was doing what he loved to do,” said Darrell Dwayne Hicks, who met Mr Patterson around 25 years ago. “It could not have been otherwise. He wasn’t out in the street doing evil. He was doing something for the people.

The bond the two men shared was forged over decades of working in soup kitchens and at church services.

“It’s like losing a brother,” Mr. Hicks said. “I can’t tell you how much it hurts.”

Many of the mourners wore purple buttons with Mr Patterson’s nickname and likeness under a gold wreath. Time and time again, through eyes filled with tears, they described him as a loving friend and a righteous man.

“I knew him through the community, spreading peace and love,” Murray Holman, who directs Buffalo Stop the Violence Coalition. “We did food drives. He was a good man. A very good man.

Some of Mr Patterson’s dozens of distant relatives, a group that included a cousin’s godmother, were asked to sing a selection of gospel music during the service.

Members of his immediate family, who were still struggling to bear the brunt of the loss, did not speak outside the church.

On Thursday, his ex-wife, Tirzah Patterson, spoke alongside the families of three other people killed in the rampage. For the youngest of her three children, 12-year-old Jaques Patterson, she said, adjusting to a world without her father – who gave her “everything he asked for” – had been devastating.

“Every day I have to pray and check in to make sure he’s not mentally all over the place,” Ms Patterson said, adding that her son had struggled to eat and sleep through the night. “His heart is broken.

Jacques Patterson had planned to share his own thoughts at Thursday’s event. But as his mother started to speak, he buried his face in his hands. And as she finished, young Mr. Patterson shook his head, wept and collapsed on Reverend Al Sharpton’s chest, who kissed him and rubbed the back of his gray T-shirt.

“As a mother, what am I supposed to do to get her through this,” said Ms Patterson, who was married to the deacon for 15 years. “They took his father.”

On Friday, the feeling of lingering heartache remained visible: a 70-year-old cousin stood in the corner of the church’s tall red doors as other relatives entered inside to view Mr Patterson’s body .

The man, who declined to be named, said he could not bear to see his loved one dead when even talking about him was too much.

For David Wilson, 66, another of Mr Patterson’s cousins, decades of memories flashed through his mind as he left the church. He had seen Mr. Patterson a week before the attack, and Mr. Patterson had encouraged him to stop by his church for a service.

The pair had lost regular contact in recent years, Wilson said. But as children, they crossed paths regularly. Mr. Wilson recalled spending an afternoon with Mr. Patterson and a group of other parents.

Five dollars were up for grabs. All Mr Patterson had to do was sprint around the block in a pair of silk underwear and a matching t-shirt and collect the money.

“And he did,” Mr. Wilson said. “That was him: he just wanted to make people smile – and that spirit never left him.”

Lauren D’Avolio contributed report.

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