5/14 Massacre Survivor Wonders How Victims’ Funds Will Be Distributed
Since surviving the Tops supermarket massacre on Jefferson Avenue five months ago, Fragrance Stanfield has been dedicated to ensuring that all victims, including those who managed to escape, are never forgotten. .
Fragrance Harris Stanfield tells their story to stand up for survivors and make sure people remember the attack wasn’t random.
She and her daughter were both working at the store on the afternoon of May 14 when a man dressed in camouflage and armed with an AR-15 began firing. Stanfield ran for his life. She slipped and tripped as she ran through the aisles to get to the back of the store. His daughter, YAHnia Brown-McReynolds, hid under a cash register as the killer walked by twice, firing his rifle the entire time.
Both women lived. They were not physically injured. But they remained traumatized.
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In the weeks that followed, Stanfield advocated for survivors like herself to be included in conversations about the massacre, which authorities say was perpetrated by a white supremacist who wanted to kill as many black people as possible. She called on survivors to be among those who would be beneficiaries of the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund, which has raised more than $6.4 million.
On Thursday, she went to a meeting for some of those who had been deemed eligible to receive payments from the fund. She was amazed to learn that survivors like her would receive $9,500.
“We waited five months. They just give us some money,” Stanfield said in an interview on Saturday.
Stanfield thought survivors would get more — enough to pay rent and bills for a year. She thought it might be between $30,000 and $50,000 per person.
Stanfield said she is grateful for all the support she and others have received.
But five months later, she is still in pain. She couldn’t go back to work. His blood pressure skyrocketed. She lost weight from her already small frame. She has nightmares. Her marriage was strained. She had to tell her story over and over again and filled out all kinds of paperwork to get help.
She’s tired, she says, of constantly having to prove her trauma. “It’s not enough to have been in the store,” she said.
Jeffrey Dion, executive director of the National Compassion Fund explained that the money from the fund will go to five categories of people: the heirs of the 10 people who were killed; three people who were shot and survived; a person who was injured but not shot; 107 people who were either inside Tops or in the parking lot during the shooting; and Tops workers assigned to the Jefferson Avenue store but not working that day.
Dion said the fund provides equal payments to people in each category and does not take economic need into account, with the largest payments going to the families of those who have died.
“The way we look at it is, how hard is it to recover? Psychological trauma is real. It has an impact. But people can recover. People who have been hurt have psychological trauma and it’s harder for them to recover…. Death is the injury you don’t recover from,” Dion said in a phone interview Saturday.
The survivors’ fund was created through the National Compassion Fund, which collects donations for the victims of mass casualty events. Over 13,000 donations have been made to the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund, including many from individuals but also large organizations such as the Buffalo Bills Foundation and Tops.
Funds are allocated according to a protocol agreed upon by a steering committee and after receiving feedback through a public process.
Stanfield said she interviewed Dion and other fund administrators at Thursday’s meeting.
“I told them no one expected to get rich. But everyone expected a break. We’ve been dealing with this since May 14.”
She couldn’t understand why the two Tops employees who were present during the shooting received the same compensation as the buyers were there.
“I don’t like comparing trauma either,” she said. “But the reality…it’s a fact…I was at work. It’s something you can’t take out of the equation but they keep trying to do it. I was being stalked at work.”
The workers were there to earn a living – to feed themselves and their families, she said. She also said that Tops employees assigned to the Jefferson Avenue store who were not present received $1,500 each.
“They’re the ones who run the store,” Stanfield said.
Dion said the fund’s protocol treats all survivors equally, whether they’re Tops workers or buyers. “They’re all people. They’ve all been through the same thing,” he said.
The payments are gifts, he said, not a settlement and have no strings attached.
The fund found 107 eligible people in this category, Dion said. Payroll records were used to verify workers. Buyers were a little harder to confirm, Dion said. In some cases, law enforcement was able to confirm their presence. They also used text messages sent by the victims at the time of the shooting. Tops also looked at surveillance video to identify some buyers, Dion said.
If 107 people received $50,000 each, Dion said, that alone would total $5.35 million.
He said there is often confusion and hurt feelings with such funds. Questions were raised after the September 11 terrorist attacks when larger sums were paid out to stock traders than the dishwashers at Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower. These funds were paid to people who agreed not to sue the airline industry.
The National Compassion Fund created a fund after the Surfside condo collapsed in 2021. This raised $5 million. With 98 people killed, the heirs received $35,000 each, he said.
Stanfield said she and others hoped the payments from the fund would bring them some respite from months of sadness and stress.
“I could pay for my car. Get rid of a few bills. Put everything else on autopay. I need my life on autopay so I can really heal,” she said.
A singer, she recorded a song about her experience on May 14. “I started running crying. It really felt like I just died. When I’m breathing so hard and can’t catch my breath,” she sang.