Tops production manager says shooting suspect asked why she worked in black neighborhood weeks before shooting

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It only took one interaction for Rose Wysocki to distance herself from the man visiting the Buffalo the grocery store where she worked.

It was sometime before Easter when Wysocki, a 56-year-old product manager at Tops Friendly Markets, first recalled interacting with the 18-year-old now accused of carrying out a massacre in racism in his workplace. She had seen him at the store a handful of times before, Wysocki told The Washington Post. While going about her business one afternoon, she says Payton Gendron approached her.

“He told me that I had no place there. He said I belonged in the suburbs,” Wysocki, who is white, told the Post, adding that he then asked why she worked at an “all-black” store. The New York Post first reported on the exchange.

Wysocki, who worked at the Buffalo Tops since August, says she told Gendron that she loved her store. He responded by calling her an “n-word lover,” Wysocki said.

She immediately walked away.

“I said, ‘What a jerk,’ and went back to work,” Wysocki said. After 33 years in the grocery chain and having worked in her family’s store before that, she said she learned to avoid confrontational customers. But a colleague might tell something was wrong, she said, and asked if she was okay.

“I just said I met a rude customer,” she said.

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Daniel DuBois, an attorney representing Gendron, declined to comment. Gendron was charged with killing 10 people in the May 14 attack. He pleaded not guilty.

Authorities say Gendron posted a 180-page document online days before the shooting that cited a racist theory claiming white Americans are intentionally replaced by non-whites for political reasons. Additional messages written by a person identifying himself as Gendron indicate that he visited the Buffalo supermarket in March to assess security and map aisles, The Post reported.

A few weeks passed after Wysocki’s alleged trade with Gendron. Then, on May 14, she returned from a cigarette break to restock on bananas when she heard what she described as “firecrackers”.

“Popular! Popular! Popular!” Wysocki recounted his audition. Maybe two people had engaged in a shootout in the parking lot, she thought at first. Then she heard screams – and rapid gunfire.

“It was like a war zone. ‘He shoots ! He shoots ! “Wysocki remembered people inside the store screaming.

It was then that a colleague pulled Wysocki by the arm and led her into the conference room, where they and others hid as the rampage unfolded. “We could actually hear it coming closer to us and then moving away,” she told the Post. Others hid in freezers and refrigerators.

After what seemed like an eternity, another coworker knocked on the door, identified himself, and confirmed that it was safe for them to escape through the back door of the store. She is convinced that the colleague who dragged her into the conference room, as well as Aaron Salter Jr. – the store’s security guard and a recently retired police officer who was shot and killed in the attack – saved the lives of dozens of people who managed to escape.

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When Wysocki learned that Gendron had been charged in connection with the shooting, she couldn’t help but blame herself.

“I feel like I missed something,” Wysocki said. “He smelled our store and our customers, and he knew where the guards were.”

“How can I make this go away? It’s never going to go away,” she added. “It was just the worst day of my life.”

Wysocki and her colleagues attend daily counseling sessions to deal with grief. They have lost a beloved colleague and regular customers – but she said many employees will eventually return to work once Tops reopens.

“We can’t let him win,” she told the Post. “That’s why we go back to this store…every day. We are together every day.

Shayna Jacobs, Jon Swaine and Dalton Bennett contributed to this report.


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