Buffalo Woman Went to Tops Supermarket and Saw Police Cars. Then She Heard Devastating News About Aunt

Geraldine Chapman Talley, 62, was an expert baker known for her warm, gentle personality

Geraldine Talley
Geraldine Talley. Photo: Courtesy Divine Zamir

On a seemingly normal Saturday afternoon, Buffalo resident Tamika Harper was driving to Tops Family Markets on Jefferson Avenue when she saw a police car with flashing lights behind her. Initially, she thought she was being pulled over, but when the officer drove past her, she felt relief.

But when Harper approached the store, she saw a swarm of police cars and ambulances. She'd soon learn there had been a mass shooting — and that her aunt, Geraldine Chapman Talley, 62, had been inside the store with her fiancé, who now couldn't find her.

The horrifying truth would soon emerge: Talley was one of 10 people killed, allegedly by a white supremacist who'd traveled to Buffalo's East Side to target Black people. Speaking for herself but also for the families of the nine other victims, Harper tells PEOPLE, "Our lives will never be the same."

Harper, 44, and her cousin, Kesha Chapman, 46, tell PEOPLE their aunt was a devoted mother and grandmother whose gentle demeanor helped bind their family together.

Geraldine Talley
Courtesy Divine Zamir

"She wanted everything to be easy, and just full of love and music and peace," says Chapman, who lives in Atlanta but boarded a plane to Buffalo when she heard the news about a woman she considers a second mother.

"I feel numb. I feel sick. I feel distraught. I feel angered. I feel vengeful," Chapman says. "I'm in disbelief and it just interrupted our entire family. Auntie Gerri was the sweetest person. She loved everybody. … It's not fair."

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According to her nieces, Talley and her fiancé had a Saturday ritual: Every week, they would sit by the waterfront and enjoy the scenery and each other's company before heading home to eat. Last Saturday, they went to Tops planning to get lunch meats for sandwiches.

In the store, Talley and her fiancé got separated after she sent him to get some tea, Harper says. As soon as he turned down the aisle away from her, gunfire rang out.

"And he was dodging bullets and calling her name, and … he didn't see her," says Harper. "He had to get in the freezer; he hid in the freezer. The guy then shot the glass off the freezer."

Geraldine Talley
Courtesy Divine Zamir

Harper says that in the aftermath of the shooting, she'll never set foot in the supermarket again.

Chapman says Tops was one of the few places in the area for residents to shop for food, and that the trauma of the shooting has "affected the lifestyle and livelihood of not just my family, but every family that lives in this area. … There's not a lot of places [for] brown and Black communities, for us to shop to get the food we need."

The shooting appeared to be the country's latest example of white supremacist violence. According to Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia, 11 of the 13 people shot — including non-fatal victims — were Black. Erie County Sheriff John Garcia called the shooting a "racially-motivated hate crime," and authorities are investigating the attack as terrorism.

Amid their grief, the cousins are determined to take action to prevent similar violence.

"You hear this anger," says Chapman. "We don't want this to happen anymore. We want to do what we can, as a family, to prevent this from happening again. As much as we can, and bring awareness to this, because we can't bring our aunt back, but we can defend her honor."

They are left with their memories of Talley, a woman they described as a skilled baker who could make anything, but specialized in cheesecake and carrot cake.

"She was such a beautiful woman," says Harper. "She would give you the shirt off her back. Why did this happen to her? Why?"

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