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Biden will visit Buffalo, where residents are reeling from the mass shooting

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mass shootings happen so often in this country, there's a formula for what happens after the fact. The community holds vigils. Local and state dignitaries come to console. And often, there's a presidential visit. That's what happens today as President Biden and the first lady travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to spend time with those grieving the 10 lives lost. But even though the pattern of events after a mass shooting is familiar, the pain each family feels after the loss of their loved one is particular and devastating. NPR's Joe Hernandez is in Buffalo. He's been talking with the families of some of the victims, and he joins us now. Joe, thanks for being here.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: Sure.

MARTIN: This was a racist attack, happened on Saturday at that grocery store, the Tops grocery store in Buffalo. It shocked this community, a mostly Black neighborhood. What are you hearing from folks there, particularly the relatives of those who died?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, well, I was at a press conference yesterday with the family of one of the victims, Ruth Whitfield. She was an 86-year-old Black woman who'd just come from visiting her husband in a nursing home up the road. And her son, Garnell Whitfield, who is a former Buffalo fire commissioner, spoke about his mother.

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GARNELL WHITFIELD: But we're not just hurting. We're angry. We're mad. This shouldn't have happened.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: No, it shouldn't.

WHITFIELD: We do our best to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in God.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

WHITFIELD: We trust him.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's right.

WHITFIELD: We treat people with decency. And we love even our enemies. And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again.

HERNANDEZ: You know, Whitfield was speaking in a church auditorium there, surrounded by family members, some of whom were crying. And you could really feel the anguish echoing around that space. People are just angry that a white supremacist came into their neighborhood and specifically targeted Black residents and in shock that it happened at some - you know, a place like a grocery store and in particular, this grocery store, which is a sort of hub in the neighborhood.

MARTIN: Can you tell me more about that neighborhood in East Buffalo?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, it's predominantly Black, and it has a rich Black history and culture. Outside the supermarket, I talked to Pastor Tim Newkirk, who works with GYC Ministries. And he told me it was famous for a bunch of things, in fact, including the first Buffalo Bills stadium and historic theaters and libraries. And that all made the shooting just so much more painful.

TIM NEWKIRK: There's just so much rich history. So for him to pick this community was pretty much designed because this is the melting pot, you know? We have thriving banks, restaurants, barbershops, you know, the fish market. This is a history that is preserved.

HERNANDEZ: Newkirk said the community was already actually starting to forgive the shooter, and - but it really goes beyond just that neighborhood. I mean, the whole city is feeling this. People describe Buffalo, which is called the City of Good Neighbors, as a really tight-knit community for a city of its size.

MARTIN: If we could turn for a moment to the investigation, what more do authorities know about the alleged shooter?

HERNANDEZ: They say that he was in Buffalo at the supermarket in March and also that he was there on Friday, the day before the shooting. And they're not releasing many more details. The investigation is ongoing and there is a felony court hearing for him scheduled for this Thursday.

MARTIN: So as we noted, President Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, are expected to visit Buffalo today. Any word on what their message will be?

HERNANDEZ: A White House official says the president will visit the Tops supermarket site, and he'll meet with family members of the victims, as well as law enforcement officials and first responders. Biden will also make remarks and call the shooting an act of terrorism and ask Americans to reject these racist and hateful ideologies. And he'll also call on Congress to pass new gun measures to keep hands - to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illnesses that make them a danger to the public.

MARTIN: NPR's Joe Hernandez reporting from Buffalo. Joe, thank you.

HERNANDEZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.