Police say the suspect planned further acts of violence and released the names of the Buffalo victims

BUFFALO — Keyshanti Atkinson took a job as a cashier at Tops Friendly Markets three months ago. She loved it immediately.

Buffalo’s East Side, where the majority of the city’s black population lives, is close-knit. It’s the smallest a place can be while still being a big city, locals say.

“Everywhere you go, you see an uncle or someone you know from school,” said Atkinson, 19.

And that was also the case in the supermarket. She knew almost everyone in her checkout line—or at least knew them through friends or family. Tops is the only supermarket on the East Side. It’s the only pharmacy. This is where some residents pay their monthly bills.

Atkinson agreed Friday afternoon to pick up a colleague’s shift for the weekend at the grocery store. She came to work on Saturday around 12:30 p.m. Her shift was scheduled to end at 7 p.m. that evening. She went to checkout #2 on the left side of the store.

A few minutes into her shift, she said, felt a bit ominous. Her boyfriend and her 10-month-old son planned to come to Tops later that afternoon to buy groceries and visit her. Suddenly she didn’t want them to come, she said.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I’ll see it through to the end of the day. Nothing will happen.'”

Around 2:30 p.m., she heard the first shots in front of the store. She thought it was a quarrel; Gun violence is not uncommon in the neighborhood, residents complain. Then a gunman fired through a window. Chaos broke out.

Customers ran, trying to find an exit or a place to hide. Atkinson’s next exit was the store’s main entrance. The gunman, dressed in camouflage suit and body armor, stood between her and the doors.

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She sprinted down the halls on her left to the manager’s office.

“We fell on each other,” she says. “The shots sounded like they were getting closer and closer.”

She ran into a conference room with a handful of other employees. A colleague slammed and bolted the door, pushed a table against it and leaned on the barricade with all his might.

“We all cried,” she said.

She reached for her phone to tell her boyfriend not to come into the store with her child – but she’d left it at her register. There was no way to warn them to stay away.

“I had a panic attack while I was in the conference room,” Atkinson said. “I didn’t know if this was the last time I would see my son.”

Almost 10 minutes later, a colleague banged on the outside of the conference room door to say it was safe to evacuate. But the people inside didn’t believe her.

Moments later, a police officer came and led her out of the room. Three other officers streamed down the halls toward them, guns drawn.

The officers yelled at her to sprint out the back entrance.

And when staff got to the door, more officers asked them to come out with their hands up in case the gunman tried to blend in with the crowd.

Atkinson saw two women driving home from church choir rehearsal as they drove west on Riley Street by the grocery store. She knew them from her till and countless previous meetings.

“Sorry,” she said as they pulled up. “Can you take me home? I have to make sure my baby is at my house. I just want to make sure my baby is safe.”

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When she got home, she picked up her son but almost fell. She slopped onto the couch and held him tighter.

She told her partner she didn’t want to talk about what happened at the store. She didn’t want to go for a walk or drink a glass of water.

“I just want to hold my son,” she told her boyfriend.

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