Buffalo, NY — Bruce Smith visited the memorial at the site of the Buffalo shooting on Jefferson Ave. on Thursday afternoon because he needed to find some peace. He’s struggled with the reality of the “horrific rampage” that took the lives of 10 people last Saturday all week.
Smith, with a tissue in his right hand and Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula’s left arm around his shoulder, wept as he stood just a football field away from where 10 people were gunned down last week. He called the victims African American pillars of Buffalo’s East Side community who were just shopping for groceries.
“It’s one thing to see a horrific event like this take place and you don’t have any attachment to it,” Smith said. “But this is in our front yard. This affects people that you’ve grown up with and you’ve known for 30 years or more. And that’s where it hurts the most. It feels like somebody just ripped the insides out of you and it hurts so bad.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula joined Smith, Jim Kelly, and Thurman Thomas at the memorial site to pay their respects. The group then walked down Jefferson to East Ferry, where they passed out food and other essential items to community members at the Resource Council of WNY.
People who showed up to receive bags of food were greeted with smiles from Smith, Kelly, Thomas, the Pegulas, Goodell, and even more former players and members of the Buffalo Sabers organization, who were also in attendance. A few Bills fans started a rendition of the “SHOUT!” song at one point and one man told Smith a story about a Buffalo police officer that was a friend of Smith’s for 30 years.
“A friend of mine named Larry White, who was a Buffalo police officer who died a number of years ago,” Smith said. “We were laughing and he was telling us a story about how as a teenager, Larry White used to mentor him and see him standing on the corner and would say, ‘Boy where you going?’ He’d pick him up and put him in his car and take him home and turn the lights on and his parents would come out and be like what did he do this time? … He’s a minister today doing the same thing, he’s mentoring these young kids and sending a positive message.”
Terry Pegula said the goal of the day was to try and uplift members of the community as they continue to deal with the grief from the shooting. Smith said that today was probably the first time these folks have smiled in days.
“Seeing that energy and seeing some type of comfort from seeing whether it’s my face or Jim’s face or Thurman’s face – that’s a part of the process of healing and moving forward,” he said. “There are some other issues that need to be addressed regarding social media and hate and white supremacy and so forth. But right now we’ve got to heal this community so we can move forward, and then we can tackle these greater issues that affects all of us.”
Goodell grew up in Jamestown, NY and he said the region is like home to him. He said it was important for him to come to Buffalo because he wanted to let people know that they weren’t alone.
“The thing that gave me the most comfort was talking to individuals,” Goodell said. “We all know we have a tragic circumstance here of 10 victims. But there are a lot of other people here really hurting. We just want them to know that all of us are standing behind them and we’re all going to do whatever we can to support them.”
Thomas and his wife Patricia have raised over $200k through the Thurman Thomas Family Foundation. Those funds will go directly to the families of the victims. He said on Thursday that it was a great day meeting with members of the community and learning more about the victims and their lives.
Smith said that the events of the shooting hit home a little more because it happened “in our front yard.” He said that for him it’s all about love and he was taught to love your neighbor. He wanted to spread some of that love in Buffalo on Thursday.
“Love thy neighbor, not hate. Not go on a murderous rampage because of the color of someone’s skin. That’s not what we’re about,” Smith said. “And these platforms and these people that want to spew hate and do things like this, there’s no place for them in our society. Let alone killing someone for the color of their skin.
“I bet you this racist did not count on this outpouring of love that’s taking place right now. The strengthening of this community that’s going on right now and we’re going to build on that.”