Three NYSUT members were among the 10 people tragically killed last weekend when a gunman opened fire at a Tops Supermarket in Buffalo.
Though they worked in different schools and at different jobs, long-time substitute teacher Pearl Young and bus aide Margus Morrison had one thing in common: they both loved working with students.
“We’re all deeply grieving,” said Shirley Sapp-Burgess, president of the Substitutes United of Buffalo. “Such a horrible tragedy that took the lives of wonderful people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone’s just reeling.”
Sapp-Burgess, who lives just a couple blocks from the Tops Supermarket herself, said she often saw Young shopping at the store. “Everyone knew Ms. Young. She was a pillar of the community — running a local food pantry and teaching Sunday School at her church.”
Young, 77, showed that same kind of dedication and commitment to her work as a longstanding substitute teacher at Emerson School of Hospitality.
“She always greeted students with a warm smile, a hug and a great conversation,” said Principal Debbie White-Stokes at a press conference earlier this week. ”She loved the students she taught … and the kids loved her back. Her love was infectious.”
Stokes noted Young was at school every day. “She was here no matter what…. She was one of our most faithful staff members.”
To celebrate Young’s life, students brought in balloons and signed a tribute poster showing how much the school community loved and appreciated “Pearly.” “Ms. Young was a gem, one of a kind,” Stokes said. “She will always be a part of our Emerson family.”
The mood was the same when educators and parents remembered Margus Morrison, a 52-year-old bus aide at Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center (School 99) and member of the Transportation Aides of Buffalo.
“He loved what he was doing and was just a terrific person,” said Freddie Smith, president of the Transportation Aides of Buffalo. “He never missed work and the parents just loved him. He helped monitor the kids, getting them get on and off the bus — just making sure everything was okay.”
Tributes on Facebook showed Morrison’s incredible impact.
“When the names and images of those that lost (their) lives that day were released, one face in particular caught our eye, then travelled right down into the pit of our gut when we saw it,” wrote one parent. “It was that of Margus Morrison, our son’s school bus aide ... Whether the man knew it or not, he was needed and made an important impact.” She said Liam, her 5-year-old son, called him “a nice friend” who will be greatly missed.
Another parent of a child with special needs said, “Mr. M” was there for BPS kids when they needed it most this past year.” Others called him “the best bus aide,” “full of energy” and “always smiling and being positive.”
“The kids gravitated to him,” another added. “They loved him.”
Aaron Salter Jr., 55, a security guard at Tops who died trying to stop the rampage, was also a NYSUT member. A 30-year retired Buffalo police officer, Salter belonged to the Substitutes United of Buffalo when he worked as a substitute teacher several years ago. Salter fired multiple shots at the shooter, but they bounced off the gunman’s tactical gear.
More stories and tributes
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore and Buffalo Educational Support Team President Jo Ann Sweat issued the following statement on the tragedy:
“Like everyone in New York, we are shocked and horrified by this senseless, repugnant act of violence against one of our communities. This brutal act and the racial hatred that motivated it are incomprehensible, yet all too familiar in our society. Our communities must have the resources and support needed to ensure those who might commit acts of violence are identified and intervention takes place before tragedy occurs. That must happen immediately — not tomorrow, not next week, but today.
“Educators across Western New York and the state stand in support of our children, our colleagues and our families impacted by this tragedy. We mourn those we’ve lost to this vicious and hateful act. Let us come together to remember their lives and pray for their families.”