In the days following the racist massacre at a Buffalo grocery store, Zeneta Everhart tended to her 20-year-old son’s grisly gunshot wounds from the attack.
Changing out the blood-soaked bandages, she thought about the scars that will be left behind –— both for her son, Zaire Goodman, and those in the Black community targeted simply because of the color of their skin.
But on Wednesday, Everhart made plans to fight back for their neighborhood.
Now a renter living just blocks from the Tops Friendly Markets store where a gunman killed 10 people and injured three others, Everhart, 40, intends to buy a house on those same East Side streets she and Goodman have called home their entire lives.
She refuses to let the racist hate that fueled the act of domestic terrorism win.
“Our community is going to be better because of this,” said Everhart, whose son, a worker at the store, was shot while helping bring groceries to the car of Ruth Whitfield, one of the shooting victims.
“It is heart-wrenching to think about those 10 lives taken from us — amazing people taken from us — but we’re going to live through this for them,” Everhart said. “I won’t be bullied and pushed out.”
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Driven by faith
Yet beyond the courage and determination in the face of such evil, Everhart’s pledge to stay, in some ways, is driven by the harrowing circumstances of her son’s survival.
A bullet from the gunman’s assault-style rifle struck Goodman’s neck, tearing through his body and exploding out through his back. It didn’t strike any vital organs, and defying all odds, Goodman is not paralyzed. He didn’t require surgery and walked out of the hospital after just four hours of treatment.
“If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is,” Everhart said. “Something out there — some divine creator — had my son in their hands, and I am eternally grateful for that.”
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And that faith seemingly blossomed from that same community she so fiercely defends.
“I don’t know how that terrorist was raised, but in this community, we (are) raised with love and we spread love and we give love all day long,” she said.
But Everhart, who works as director of inclusion and diversity for a local state senator, also emphasized the mass shooting caused pain and suffering that will ripple out for generations.
It is a reality reflected in her son’s concern for his co-workers, the victims and their families.
“His heart is broken because Ms. Whitfield was the woman he was helping,” Everhart said. “He saw her die in front of him.”
Spare my son
On Saturday, Everhart told Goodman to have a good day at work before heading out to BJ’s, her favorite store.
She'd almost finished shopping when she answered a call and heard her son's screams: ‘Mom, mom, get here now. I got shot.’”
Everhart abandoned the full shopping cart and ran to her car. As she veered through traffic on the highway, she heard her son’s voice through the vehicle’s speakers.
Goodman felt almost close by and strikingly calm. He kept saying: “Mom, I’m okay. I’m going to be okay.” Everhart sobbed and frantically asked for details.
When Goodman revealed he thought the bullet hit his back, the whole world seemed to slow down, Everhart recalled.
“I cried more and screamed more,” Everhart said, “and I asked the universe to spare my son’s life; I said it over and over.”
They kept talking on the phone as the ambulance raced Goodman to Erie County Medical Center. Everhart lost the call as she pulled into the hospital and desperately redialed her son’s number without answer.
Screaming and weeping, Everhart asked to see her son. A grief counselor and police officer escorted her to a quiet room. She sat on the floor there; somehow it felt safer to be grounded. A panic attack struck as she struggled to breathe and the counselor went and found Zaire’s father, who had arrived at the hospital.
About 15 minutes passed in what felt like a year, Everhart recalled, before they were bought to see Goodman. Her son spoke:
“I knew you’d be a mess mom, but I knew I would be fine.”
The parents embraced their son as best they could through all the medical monitoring devices, and Everhart’s mind returned to her faith.
“That’s why I feel like he is divinely protected, and he knew he was going to be fine,” she said. “His ancestors were literally watching his back.”
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Something to say
Back home, Everhart on Wednesday reflected on all the community conversations she facilitated about gun violence over the past five years working for Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo.
Fate had seemingly put her on the path from television news producer, she said, to working directly with her neighbors to figure out how politicians can address their concerns.
Mostly, she thought about how Saturday’s mass shooting would affect her work.
“I had a voice before this tragedy and now I’m going to amplify that, and I’m going to use my pain as fuel in my professional life,” Everhart said, adding she’s still figuring out the details.
“I have something to say and I’m going to say it,” she said.
But for now, Everhart is focused on next week. She’s got to get ready for a party: Zaire’s 21st birthday.
“I want to celebrate his life; a life festival,” she said. “That is remarkable that he is still here, and I’m counting that blessing.”
And the day after that, she has another chance on her own 41st birthday to shower love on Zaire.
“He was an extra-special birthday gift 20 years ago," she said, "and this year, again, will be extra special.”
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This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Buffalo shooting survivor's mom now plans to buy house in Jefferson Ave