Harris addresses ‘epidemic of hate’ as final victim of Buffalo mass shooting laid to rest

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — The final victim of the supermarket shooting massacre in Buffalo, New York, was laid to rest Saturday, as the country reels from another mass shooting.

Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff attended the memorial service for Ruth Whitfield Saturday afternoon at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo.

Whitfield, 86, was one of 10 people killed at Tops Friendly Market on May 14 in what authorities are calling a “racially motivated hate crime.”

“I do believe that our nation right now is experiencing an epidemic of hate,” Harris said during the service.

Harris had not planned to speak but made remarks at the urging of Rev. Al Sharpton, counsel for the Whitfield family.

“No one should ever be made to fight alone. We are stronger than those who are trying to hurt us think that we are,” Harris said.

“We are strong,” she continued. “We are strong in our faith. We are strong in our beliefs about what is right and our determination to act to ensure that we protect all those who deserve to be protected, that we see all those who deserve to be seen, that we hear the voices of the people and that we rise up in solidarity to speak out against this and to speak to our better angels.”

Whitfield was returning home from visiting her husband in a nursing home when she stopped by the market to pick up groceries — “a daily ritual,” her son, Garnell Whitfield, told ABC News — and never returned home.

She is survived by many loved ones, including her husband of 68 years, Garnell W. Whitfield, Sr.; her four children, nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, five great-great-grandchildren and seven siblings.

Attorney Ben Crump, counsel to the Whitfield family, called her “one of the most angelic figures that we have ever known” during Saturday’s memorial service.

“It is up to us to take the stand to make sure that Ruth Whitfield’s life will be remembered, her legacy, not just for this hateful act, but her legacy will be one of love, where all of us came together to demonstrate a greater love,” Crump said during the service. “A love that we said, No more, enough is enough. And that is our plea for justice — that you stand with us and proclaim enough is enough.”

In addition to Whitfield’s family and those of the Buffalo faith community, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and State Attorney General Letitia James were in attendance, according to Sharpton, who charged that there is an “epidemic of racial violence that is accommodated by gun laws that allow people to kill us.”

Following the service, Harris stopped by Tops Friendly Market to leave flowers and pay her respects. Before she departed Buffalo, the vice president called on Congress to act on gun reform legislation, vouching for a ban on assault weapons and background checks.

“An assault weapon is a weapon of war, with no place, no place in a civil society,” she told reporters, adding that background checks are “just reasonable.”

Authorities allege the suspect, wielding an AR-15-style rifle, intentionally targeted Black people in an attack he had planned for months.

All 10 of the people killed in the attack were Black, six women and four men. Three other people were wounded in the shooting, including one Black victim and two white victims.

The suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, was indicted by a grand jury on first-degree murder, but all charges remain under seal. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on June 9.

Gendron was initially charged with one count of murder following the massacre. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered to be held without bail.

The suspect is expected to face additional murder and attempted murder counts and state hate crime charges. The FBI is also conducting a parallel investigation, which the Department of Justice said could lead to federal hate crime and terrorism charges.

During a visit to Buffalo in the wake of the massacre, President Joe Biden called the mass shooting an act of “domestic terrorism.”

ABC News’ Lalee Ibssa contributed to this report.

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