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Grandmother of slain Canisius student: 'It had to be someone who knew them'

Christie Brooks spent 10 hours on Thanksgiving Day – which was also her 35th birthday – working at her regular job at a Rochester Wal-Mart store. According to her family, she finished work at midnight, came home and quickly went to bed, knowing she had to be back at Wal-Mart at 6:30 a.m. for Black Friday.

But Brooks never made it to work on Black Friday. She and her oldest daughter – Canisius College freshman Victoria Brooks, 18 – were fatally shot in their Rochester home sometime that morning.

Their slayings are still under investigation by Rochester Police Major Cases Squad.

So far, no arrests have been made.

“We don’t know who did it, but it had to be someone who knew them. That’s all I know,” Christie’s mother, Elizabeth Chapman, told The Buffalo News on Friday. “I was on my way to work that day, and I got a call from one of my other grandchildren. ‘Grandma, they’re dead!’ ”

The bodies were found in an upstairs bedroom shortly before 7 a.m. Nov. 25, Chapman said.

Investigators are “vigorously following” some leads in the case and are hoping they will result in an arrest or arrests, said Rochester Police spokeswoman Jacqueline Shuman.

Shuman said she could not comment on Chapman’s assertion that the two women were killed by someone who knew them, but she did tell The News that police have ruled out the possibility that the deaths were murder-suicide.

When asked if there is a person of interest in the case, Shuman said: “We have leads we are vigorously pursuing and are hopeful we will be successful.” She declined to comment when asked if police have found the weapon used in the slayings.

Chapman, 57, who works as a drug counselor at a Rochester halfway house, has had a lot of emotions to deal with since the murders. Victoria’s brothers and sisters, ages 6, 7, 9, 12, 11, 14 and 16 – are now living with her. In addition to arranging funeral services for Christie and Victoria, Chapman has been busy settling her seven surviving grandkids back in school.

The surviving kids are “doing about as well as can be expected,” Chapman said.

“We’re all still kind of numb about all this,” Chapman said. “There are a lot of different levels of coping going on in our family.”

Most of the Rochester community – including friends and co-workers of Christie and Victoria – have been extremely kind to the family, Chapman said. Wal-Mart workers have helped with donations. Police in the Rochester suburb of Gates, where Victoria worked in a donut shop, have started a fundraising drive to help the family.

“The Rochester Police, Gates Police, everyone at Wal-Mart and at the donut shop have been very kind and generous,” Chapman said.

But she added that she has been upset by some cruel remarks and insinuations about the slayings that a few people have posted online.

“I want your readers in Buffalo to know, these were two innocent, beautiful people,” Chapman said. “People are coming up with all kinds of theories and it’s got me incensed. This was no drug-related killing. It was not gang-related, or related to anything like that.”

Chapman added: “My daughter became a mother in her teens, but she was determined to make wonderful lives for her children. She got her high school diploma. She had all eight children with the same man…her estranged husband…She worked hard and made sure her children went to good schools and were good students.”

Chapman said that Christie’s estranged husband, whom she did not identify by name, was at the Brooks home for a Thanksgiving meal. “They were separated and in the process of divorce, but he was there that day to be with his children,” Chapman said.

Canisius College officials said students are upset over Victoria’s death. They said Victoria had taken part in some volunteer activities coordinated by the Campus Ministry and had a part-time job escorting prospective students on tours of the college.

Although she had only been at Canisius for a short while, Victoria had a reputation as a friendly, fun-loving student who liked to get involved in positive activities, said Mike Hayes, director of the Campus Ministry.

And in the Town of Gates, many officers at the police department got to know her over the summer when she worked in a donut shop near the police station, said Lt. Jon Ballard.

“Victoria was a happy, outgoing person who seemed to enjoy herself no matter what kind of day it was,” Ballard said. “A lot of officers knew her and looked forward to seeing her when they stopped in there.”

Anyone who wishes to make a donation to help the family can make out a check to “Gates-Chili Community Connections” and send it to Gates Police, 1605 Buffalo Road, Rochester, NY, 14624.

Victoria Brooks loved to write and hoped to be a professional novelist or poet someday, her grandmother said.

“Canisius was perfect for her,” Chapman said. “She was making friends there, really enjoying herself. That’s what really upsets me. The world will never get to see what a wonderful woman this young lady was going to be.”

A month before she was killed, Victoria used a social media website called Odyssey to post an essay on how she loved being a “big sister” to her siblings.

“I want to be their biggest inspiration,” Victoria wrote.

And two weeks before her death, she posted a bittersweet poem called “Magic and the Happiness of People.”

“I believe in the incredible goodness of man,” she wrote. “I choose to believe in the good things, but for other people, because I don’t think I should have good things. I always lose them, or break them, and they are never the same.”

Chapman said she does not support the death penalty, but she wants harsh punishment – the longest possible prison term – for the killer of her daughter and granddaughter.

“I want this person to sit in prison for life, for 60 years or more,” Chapman said. “I want them to sit there in prison and think about what they’ve done, realize all the people they hurt.”

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