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Family and friends come to grips with two lives cut short in Buffalo's Fruit Belt

Yvette Johnson was getting ready to leave Buffalo. The mother of three and grandmother to six had landed a job as a corrections officer in Georgia.

"She was on the cusp of moving, either this week or next," said her most recent boss, Ricardo Herrera, executive director of the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers.

And her grandson Kyrie Johnson was a sweet, well-behaved toddler who loved to babble on the phone and spent much of Sunday blowing bubbles, squirting water guns and eating cake with his cousins and loved ones.

At about 12:30 a.m. Monday, grandmother and grandson were among a group of friends and relatives outside a Grape Street house in the Fruit Belt when one or more people opened fire, then ran away. Both Yvette Johnson and Kyrie Johnson were fatally shot.

Kyrie's father, Devery Johnson, was shot in the leg, as was a second man.

Buffalo police continued to plead with witnesses or anyone with any information to come forward to help them find whoever was responsible.

"Really anything at all, even just a piece of information, even if it seems insignificant to them, please call," said Capt. Jeff Rinaldo. He asked witnesses to call either the police confidential TIPCALL line at 849-2255 or the homicide unit at 851-4466.

Woman, 17-month-old grandson fatally shot on porch: 'A horrific, horrific crime'

Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, in his capacity as pastor True Bethel Baptist Church, 907 E. Ferry St., Tuesday said there have been several requests for donations to the family made by unauthorized parties.

"I've been requested by the Johnson family who, of course, just had a horrific and tremendous loss of their daughter and grandchild, to ask the public to be very careful in where donations are being received," Pridgen said at a news conference early Tuesday evening in his office at True Bethel.

Pridgen said the family is in need of assistance to help defray funeral costs. Donation sites have been set up on GoFundMe for "Yvette D. Johnson & Grandson," he said. Another official online site set up to take donations is on the True Bethel webpage under "$johnsonfamilyfund."

"All of these funds, 100 percent, will go to the family for help with expenses that they are incurring right now that they did not, obviously, expect to incur. These funds are not for a reward at this time," Pridgen said.

Murray Holman, executive director of the Stop the Violence Coalition, said he spent all of Monday meeting with the victims' family members and friends, giving them comfort and trying to ensure that no one tries to take matters into their own hands.

But he does hope that all of Buffalo comes together to help find the killer or killers — and to prevent future violence.

"It was her birthday," Holman said. It was, in fact, Yvette Johnson's 54th birthday on Sunday. She and her family had just been celebrating at a cookout in Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

"She got murdered on her birthday, and that was her grandbaby that got murdered as well," he said. "We need the churches and the community and the people to walk the streets and really make some noise. This is not a police issue; this is a community issue. We can't wait for them. It's time for us to go door-to-door and see what information we can get."

In the meantime, family and loved ones of the grandmother and little boy mourned the lives lost.

Johnson worked as a residential counselor at Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers, Herrera said. "She worked with individuals who have mental health issues and she worked at a variety of our sites," he said.

"She was a very reliable employee. ... She was always flexible. She had a great set of skills," he said.

Johnson had a knack for dealing with crisis situations, he said, and she enjoyed helping clients learn skills that would allow them to live more independently.

"She would make clients smile," Herrera said.

She had recently announced that she was leaving her job to move to Georgia. According to Holman, she had accepted a job as a corrections officer.

Herrera noted that one of Johnson's sons had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and that she helped support him.

"You put all those circumstances together ... the fact that she was about to move to a new beginning ... it's just so sad," Herrera said.

He shared the sad news about Johnson with her former colleagues in an email and said the organization would plan some sort of tribute.

"It's a great loss," he said.

'One of God's children now'

Consandra Hector is praying for her family, the family of Yvette Johnson and even for whoever fired the gun that killed her great-grandson, Kyrie.

"I pray for the person who did it, that he finds it in his heart to turn himself in," Hector said. "Turn yourself in. You took a life. An innocent baby."

Kyrie was a sweet boy who was a good baby, like his mother, Hector's granddaughter, she said.

He loved to get on the phone with her, even though he didn't know how to talk yet. "He was very talkative. I don't know what he was saying," she said. Of course, it didn't matter.

For much of Sunday, Kyrie was at Hector's house along with other family members. It's a family tradition, she said, for everybody to get together at one of their homes after church. It was a special Sunday because her son, Kyrie's grandfather, was visiting from Virginia.

Kyrie and his mother left around 11 p.m. that night, she said.

"I picked my grandson up," she recounted. "He had a chicken bone in his hand. I said, 'Grandma will see you later.' "

Then she watched Kyrie run up the driveway, the last time she would see him.

Now, all she can do is pray.

"God knows best," she said. "That we know. ... My grandson, he's with the Lord and I'm happy. I'm looking at it like that. He's one of God's children now. I pray the ones here get it right. Get it right. Stop the violence. It's terrible."

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