Through a GoFundMe appeal, the family of George P. Penev raised the money for a funeral and cremation after the 23-year-old was shot and killed by a Fredonia police officer on Dec. 10.
"He was just a guy who needed medical help," said his father, Pete Penev of Cowlesville, in Wyoming County. "I think the police overreacted."
The family remains in agony, unable to reconcile that their son was shot when he was in dire need of medical help. They hope the authorities tell them more over the coming days and weeks.
"We still don't know what exactly happened," said Svetlana Penev, the victim's mother.
Soon after the shooting, a person familiar with the details told The News that an officer responded to a call of a person in distress who was refusing to leave a second-floor bathroom on Liberty Street in Fredonia. The officer and a firefighter asked the man to come out of the bathroom, and when he did blood was flowing from wounds to his chest.
The man, now known to be George Penev, moved toward the officer while holding a knife, the source told The News. The officer turned, ran downstairs and out the door, with the man following him. That's when the victim was shot several times, after refusing orders to drop the knife, the source said.
Days later, the Fredonia Police Department identified the officer as Nathan Scriven, a 15-year member of the department. Personnel with the Chautauqua County District Attorney's Office and the State Attorney General's Office intended to watch footage from the officer's body camera before determining their next moves. A lawyer for Scriven said the officer was cooperating with the investigation.
At the same time, Fredonia Police Chief Bradley C. Meyers and District Attorney Patrick E. Swanson refused to release the victim's name, deferring to the family's wishes. Family members acknowledged that they wanted time to get word of George Penev's death to relatives in Bulgaria before it was reported by news outlets. But the family also spoke of their loss as part of a GoFundMe appeal.
"I was awoken by a phone call at 2 a.m. on Dec. 11," wrote Maria Penev, George Penev's sister. "A police officer told me my brother George, known by most of Buffalo as Penev, was shot four times in the chest by a Fredonia police officer on Monday, Dec. 10, at 1:30 in the afternoon ...
"Those of you who were lucky enough to know George were probably also his friend," she wrote. "He had an amazing ability to get along with everyone he met. He was quiet, but every time he spoke was well thought out; with reason and logic, showing wisdom beyond his years."
The appeal, with a target of $10,000, raised $10,276 in 17 days.
Pete Penev said his son worked for the family's trucking company, helping to arrange logistics. His Facebook page indicates he graduated from Iroquois High School, studied at Erie Community College and was a witty observer of popular culture.
He posted a video of people camped out in a snowbound parking lot for the debut of Cheektowaga's new Chick-Fil-A and observed that it's a "chicken sandwich not a cure for cancer. What kind of person does this?" For Thanksgiving, he posted a meme reminding people how much Native Americans lost to the new settlers from Europe. "Feed a man corn, he eats for a day," it said. "Teach a man to grow corn, he kills you and steals your land."
Wrote his sister: "George was one of the very few people I have met in my life who literally seemed to brighten up any room he walked into with his happy-go-lucky attitude and his loud, infectious laugh. He was always smiling his huge ear-to-ear grin, happiness and positivity radiating from him ...
"George was taken from us far too soon, leaving empty spaces in hearts all around the world, from Buffalo to Bulgaria."