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Families of Buffalo homicide victims celebrate life at picnic

Kimberly Thomas, 48, knows the pain won’t go away, ever.

Thomas, of the East Side, will always remember her godson, Curtis Byers, of Buffalo, who was shot and killed in October 2016 on Sherman Street.

“You can never get over sadness,” Thomas told The Buffalo News.

But Sunday helped Thomas “embrace” her grief, she said.

In Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Thomas was just one of hundreds of people who gathered on Sunday for a picnic to support families who have experienced the long-lasting, damaging effects of homicides in Buffalo.

“Whatever your story is ... you share it with someone else,” said Thomas, standing next to her sister, Sonya Morris, 49, of the East Side.

Murray Holman, executive director of Buffalo’s Stop the Violence Coalition, has hosted the picnic for the last eight years.

“It’s giving back to the community, (people) putting their differences aside, not fighting with one another,” said Holman, whose father-in-law, Joseph V. Washington Sr., was killed in a homicide.

Florene Washington, 66, of Buffalo, the wife of Joseph V. Washington Sr., told The News events like Holman’s picnic need to be held more often – especially after the July 2 fatal shooting of a grandmother and her 17-month-old grandson at 284 Grape St.

Buffalo Police said a double shooting Thursday night that left two men wounded at the same Fruit Belt address was a targeted attack.

That violence capped a bloody week in Buffalo, with six reported shootings. One of those six was fatal.

Second 'gang-related' Grape Street shooting caps bloody week in Buffalo

According to a News analysis from July 17, 29 homicides had been reported in Buffalo in 2018. In 2017, there was a total of 46 homicides in the city.

“We go through a good portion of the year mourning … sometimes (residents) don’t get to see each other unless they’re going to a funeral, so this right here gives everybody a chance to enjoy themselves,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood, who attended the picnic Sunday.

Holman said about 800 residents attended the picnic.

And Lockwood paused, when asked if he wished there were fewer people there.

“It’s a tough question,” said the police commissioner, who walked around the park with other officers Sunday. “Because on one hand, because of what the event is about, you would probably want to see less people here. But, on the other side, you would like to see a lot of people here, just to mingle with each other, just to get to know each other, just to have a fun day."

“A lot of this goes back 20 years, a lot of homicides back in the 1990s. You probably have people who can come up here and tell you (of) a loved one, murdered back in the 1990s, the 2000s,” Lockwood said.

Thomas, when asked the same question by The News, said she wished there was less violence in Buffalo.

But Thomas, who attended Holman’s picnic for the first time Sunday, added that she was also just happy to see so many people outside.

Kids jumped on a small stage at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, as Childish Gambino’s rap song “This is America” blasted through a set of speakers.

Others grabbed free hot dogs from Holman who stood in front of a large grill.

A Buffalo Special Police officer, a gun strapped into a belt at his hip, danced to DJ Casper’s “Cha Cha Slide,” alongside a dozen residents.

“It’s a good thing that everybody that lost somebody can come together, and share the love, and be happy,” said Thomas, wearing a shirt displaying photos of her dead godson.

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