Celestine Chaney, like all of us, had ties.
To a sister. To a son. To six grandchildren. To relatives in Alabama. To a church. To a community. And, tragically, to a supermarket.
Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo was a routine destination for Chaney, who had just turned 65 on May 6. “She loved to shop,” said her older sister Jo-Ann Daniels, who had gone with her on Saturday afternoon around 2 p.m. to get ingredients for her favorite dessert: strawberry shortcake.
That’s where all those ties were cut — in a single, hellish instant.
“We were on our way out the door when we heard the shooting,” Daniels said. “People started running in. And as they were running in, they knocked her over.”
An 18-year-old shooter, leaving an internet trail of white supremacist rantings, had opened fire on the customers of the supermarket he’d apparently targeted because it was in a Black neighborhood, officials say.
The tragedy, which claimed 13 victims, 11 of them Black and 10 of them fatalities, galvanized the nation last weekend and gave new urgency to the issue of domestic terrorism.
“At first we thought how, it being summer, it was fireworks,” Daniels recalled.
When everybody began running toward the back of the store, around 2:30 p.m., it became clear the shooting was coming from the front. “Then we started to turn and run, but then somebody ran over her and knocked her over,” Daniels said.
Celestine — “Stine” to Daniels, “Stinie” to others in the family — was one of four sisters who had grown up together in Buffalo. Though Jo-Ann was nine years older, it was Celestine who always seemed to take the role of elder sister. “She was the protective person,” Daniels said. “She was the one who was always trying to see if I was alright.”
And so it played out Saturday, when Celestine fell.
“I stopped to get her,” Daniels said “I bent over to put my hand down. “I said, ‘Come on Stine, come on Stine.’ She said, ‘No, you go ahead, I’m coming. Go ahead. I’m coming.’ ‘You sure?’ ‘Yeah, go ahead. I’m coming.’ So I went on, but I really thought she was behind me. I didn’t know they had got her.”
Jo-Ann made it out the back entrance and waited for Celestine to appear. She kept waiting. No Stine.
She waited three or four hours. “I think I was still in a little bit of denial,” she said.
Eventually her niece came for her. “My niece put me in the car,” Daniels said. “And when we were leaving, I got this real funny feeling. It started at my feet and came all the way up to my chest. I grabbed my heart. She said, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I started to cry. I told her. ‘I feel my sister.’ And I did. I really felt her in my heart.”
Later, family members saw a picture of the murdered Celestine Chaney on Facebook. They recognized her from her clothes. “That’s when they said, ‘She’s gone.’ “
Elsewhere, others in the family had also begun to get the news. Her son Wayne Jones, who also lives in Buffalo. Relatives in Birmingham, Alabama, where Chaney’s and Daniels’ mother originally came from.
“When you get news like that, it’s just devastating,” Chaney’s aunt Teresa Hagler told WBRC Birmingham.
“You see it on TV, but you never expect it to be your own family,” Hagler said.
With Chaney gone, so is a whole series of interrelationships that meant everything to her family, her church, her community. The survivors can only mourn what’s been lost.
The woman who loved her grandchildren, loved going to Elim Christian Fellowship on Chalmers Ave., loved playing Bingo. The woman who earned her own way making suits for Buffalo’s M. Wile company and baseball caps at New Era Cap Co. “Piecework, that’s what they called it,” Daniels said.
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The woman who had overcome plenty of adversity: including three aneurysms in her brain, and breast cancer. The family will be wearing pink ribbons in her honor.
The woman who loved Bruno Mars, and who let the world know it. “This one particular song, every time she’d hear it, she’d just stand there and do a little dance,” Daniels said.
Well, maybe dancing isn’t the right word. “She doesn’t dance,” Daniels said. “But she’d just do her hands and twist her body. She’d shake a little bit, and twist her arm.”
A woman who, relatives remembered, had an amazing laugh. “I can just hear her laughing now,” Hagler told WBRC. “Nobody has that laugh but her.”
A livestream video by the killer, showing the shootings in progress, was taken down from Twitch within two minutes of the incident. But versions of the video spread to other platforms. Some in Daniels’ family have viewed it. She has not.
The desire to know what her sisters’ last moments were like is counterbalanced by a knowledge of her own limits.
“My family won’t let me see it,” she said. “I don’t think I want to look at it anyway. But they tell me things.”
Celestine Chaney, like all of us, had ties.