Levi Clayton's family members can't imagine who brutally attacked their 96-year-old uncle Saturday evening in his East Side home.
"They're monsters. It's just horrible some young men would beat a 96-year-old man. They could have just held him. He's got multiple fractures, and the doctors are keeping him sedated because he's traumatized," said Ela Goree, his niece, who lives several houses away from his Longview Avenue residence.
The home is just a few blocks from Erie County Medical Center, where Clayton was listed in fair condition late Tuesday with a broken jaw and other injuries.
His relatives say authorities need to quickly apprehend the three men responsible for the home-invasion robbery and attack on their uncle, a retired autoworker and World War II veteran who was an infantryman in Europe.
"If authorities don't stop them, they'll do it again, and someone else will get hurt," the 71-year-old niece said, taking a break Tuesday afternoon from holding vigil with other loved ones at Clayton's hospital bedside.
Fortunately for authorities, Clayton, a widower who lived alone, had surveillance cameras that captured images of the robbers as they entered and left the house.
Friends, relatives and community leaders gathered late Tuesday afternoon outside his modest 1½-story house for a rally to urge anyone with information on the attackers to come forward. At the same time, Erie County Assistant District Attorneys Michael P. Felicetta and Seth T. Molisani and Buffalo police crime technician Scott C. Seifert searched inside the home for clues.
"When you have a puppy that has been burned and a whole community effort that came forward to help, I know this community can again come forward with information to get these guys off the streets," Murray Holman, executive director of the Stop the Violence Coalition, said just before the rally. "It's really very important. [Clayton] is a pillar of the community, a deacon at his church."
Holman was referring to a Jack Russell terrier that was doused with lighter fluid Oct. 29 and set on fire. The puppy survived and is receiving treatment; the community donated thousands of dollars for its care. Two teenagers have been charged in that case.
Rufus Goree stood outside his uncle's home, saying that whatever the assailants stole cannot compare to the physical suffering they inflicted.
"The stuff they got is nothing compared to what they did to him," Goree said.
Police believe that jewelry, laptops, hunting rifles, shotguns and an undetermined amount of cash were taken during the robbery at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Images from the surveillance video show at least three "persons of interest," police said. One appears to be wearing a gray or white hoodie, another a red or pink hoodie, and the third a jacket with a possible scarf. The video also revealed a dark-colored minivan that might have been used by the criminals.
"This is a case we are vigorously pursuing and hopefully, in the very near future, there will be arrests," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said.
The attackers, according to detectives, ruined two flat-screen televisions and ripped out sections of walls and ceiling. But if their efforts were to find hidden money, they may have been in vain.
Ela Goree said that she convinced her uncle to open up a checking account at a bank with direct deposits for his pension and Social Security checks in recent years.
"He had those flat-screen TVs because he loved to watch sports," she said. "He used a cane to walk, but he didn't leave the house that much. He had Meals on Wheels, and I would bring him over food after I cooked on the weekends."
Clayton, authorities said, relies on a pacemaker for his heart.
Neighbor Nate Boyd described Longview Avenue, a blocklong street between East Delavan and Northland avenues, as a quiet place.
"What can I say? It is a shame. He always sits on his porch and never bothers anybody," Boyd said. "We wish him a speedy recovery."
In his younger years, Clayton and his wife, Arlene, who died about two decades ago, filled their home with foster children because they never had children of their own, relatives said.
"They loved children and must have taken in 20 foster children over the years," Ela Goree said.
A native of Perry, Fla., Clayton, the oldest of 14 children, played semiprofessional baseball in Florida before he went off to fight in World War II, serving in Africa, Italy and France. He courted his wife-to-be, writing her letters from the front.
The former Arlene Dukes, who also was from Florida, moved to Buffalo during that time to take a job as a live-in housekeeper.
Clayton joined her here after the war and found employment at the Ford Stamping Plant, where he was employed for more than 30 years.
He also had served as chairman of the board of deacons at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Clinton Street. "My uncle loves that church," Ela Goree said.
She said those responsible for the attack should consider surrendering "if you have any kind of conscience."
Tuesday afternoon, Clayton's relatives wiped away tears during the hastily called assembly in front of 99 Longview Ave., where they – and community leaders – pleaded for help in locating the criminals.
"Ain't no snitching – just do the right thing and tell who did this. Everyone knows," Rufus Goree said, flanked by another of Clayton's nieces, Paula Goree-Smith, along with Dwayne Ferguson, president and CEO of Mad Dads of Greater Buffalo, and Erie County Legislators Timothy R. Hogues and Betty Jean Grant.
Each lamented the crime and issued pleas for the community's help."We can't allow this in our community," Ferguson said. "Enough is enough."
Goree-Smith, who upon returning home from the grocery store was the first to find Clayton badly beaten, wept openly while talking with reporters about her uncle. She said she hasn't even been able, emotionally, to visit Clayton at ECMC.
"I can't look at him like that," Goree-Smith said. "To know they were in that house hurting him, it hurts my heart."
She asked those who might know something about the crime to put themselves in her place – if the victim were their neighbor, aunt or uncle – and come forward with information that could lead to the capture of Clayton's attackers.
"I really, really want you guys to pray for [him] and pray for me, too," Goree-Smith added.
Residents who might be uncomfortable contacting police directly can call the Stop the Violence Coalition, 24 hours a day, at 882-7882 or Mad Dads at 332-9366. Representatives for both promised to relay any tips or information to the proper authorities
Police urged anyone with information to call or text the police confidential TIP-CALL line at 847-2255 or submit information at bpdny.org.
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