A grandmother celebrating her birthday and her 17-month-old grandson were shot and killed on the porch of their home on Grape Street just after 12:30 a.m. Monday.
The victims were identified as Yvette Johnson, who turned 54 on Sunday, and her grandson, Kyrie Johnson.
Two men who were also at the family gathering suffered leg wounds when one or possibly more gunmen opened fire on the crowd, then ran away, Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said.
A man who identified himself as eldest of Yvette Johnson's three sons, Kevin, showed up early Monday evening with other family members outside the the small, 2 1/2-story wood frame house.
Kevin Johnson said the family had just finished celebrating his mother's birthday with a picnic in Martin Luther King Jr. Park and were gathered outside talking. Kevin Johnson said he went upstairs when he heard what he thought at first was the sound of fireworks outside.
"I heard my brother screaming and that's when I went downstairs," he said.
Kevin Johnson said that, in addition to his mortally wounded mother and nephew, his brother, Devery, was shot in the leg. Devery, Kevin Johnson said, is his middle brother and the father of Kyrie Johnson, who was shot in the head.
Kevin Johnson said his mother was employed by Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers.
"She took care of mentally challenged people there for 5 or 6 years," said Kevin Johnson.
He said his mother had previously worked for Second Chance Homes, a residence for at-risk young women on Michigan Avenue and Dodge Street, not far from her home. Yvette Johnson had also worked for AmeriCorps.
"She got two degrees in college for nursing," said Kevin Johnson, who described his mother as very community-minded and often thought about the welfare of others.
"My mother knew a lot of people. She used to take clothes up to St. Vincent de Paul (Society) and the Red Cross," he said.
As Kevin Johnson and other family members waited outside his mother's house early Monday evening, some of those who knew the family drove by to express their grief and offer their condolences, including an elderly women in a black SUV.
"God bless y'all. I'm so sorry," the woman said.
In addition to her grandson, Kyrie, Yvette Johnson had four other grandsons and a granddaughter, Kevin Johnson said. Kyrie was her youngest grandchild.
“This is a horrific, horrific crime,” Rinaldo told reporters outside Buffalo Police Headquarters Monday. “When a 17-month-old child gets shot and killed on the city streets, we cannot allow this to happen.”
He implored any witnesses or anyone with any kind of information to come forward to help police find the killers.
“We are absolutely in need of the public’s help with this,” Rinaldo said. “ … There are people in the community that know little bits and pieces of this story and we need them to come forward. ... We need people to stand up, take a stand and say this is not going to be tolerated.”
He asked witnesses to call either the police confidential TIPCALL line at 849-2255 or the homicide unit at 851-4466.
“I can tell you that our entire homicide unit is going to work this relentlessly until we bring somebody to justice,” Rinaldo said.
Neighbors on Grape Street were stunned by the violent deaths of their neighbor and her toddler grandson.
“It’s a sad day,” said Richard Goodman, who has lived a few houses down on the same block for the last three years. “We’ve always prided ourselves on how quiet it is here. The Fruit Belt has quieted down a lot since 20 years ago when everybody was gangbanging.”
But that quiet erupted into violence as gunshots rang out at the family’s Fruit Belt home, just south of the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion on Best Street. The house is next to a grassy vacant corner lot.
Four people in all were shot. The toddler was rushed to Oishei Children's Hospital but could not be saved. The remaining three were taken to Erie County Medical Center. The two men with leg wounds were treated and released. Rinaldo said investigators were talking to them.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were firing shots or what kind of firearms they were using, but Rinaldo said that witnesses indicated that “there was a number of people seen running from the scene.”
Homicide detectives were trying to determine why someone would open fire on the family gathering as police officers canvassed the neighborhood, searching for surveillance video and interviewing witnesses.
The attack on Grape Street marks the third time in a month that four or more people were shot in a single incident in the City of Buffalo.
On June 2, five people were struck by gunfire around 9:15 p.m. while they gathered in the first block of Strauss Street, just off Broadway and west of Fillmore Avenue. Then, just after 11 p.m. June 14, a drive-by shooting in the city's Kensington neighborhood left one man dead and four more wounded.