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It only took one interaction for Rose Wysocki to distance herself from the man visiting the Buffalo grocery store where she worked.

It was sometime before Easter when Wysocki, a 56-year-old produce manager at Tops Friendly Markets, first recalled interacting with the 18-year-old now accused of carrying out a racially motivated massacre at her workplace. She had seen him at the store a handful of times before, Wysocki told The Washington Post. As she tended to her duties one afternoon, she said Payton Gendron approached her.

“He told me I didn’t belong there. He said that I belonged in the suburbs,” Wysocki, who is White, told The Post, adding that he then asked why she worked at an “all-Black” store. The New York Post first reported on the exchange.

Wysocki, who had been working at the Buffalo Tops since August, said she told Gendron she loved her store. He responded by calling her an “n-word lover,” Wysocki said.

She immediately walked away.

“I said, ‘What a jerk,’ and went back to work,” Wysocki said. After 33 years with the grocery chain and working at her family’s store before that, she said she has learned to avoid confrontational customers. But a colleague could tell something was off, she said, and asked if she was okay.

“I just said I encountered a rude customer,” she said.

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Daniel DuBois, an attorney representing Gendron, declined to comment. Gendron was charged in connection to the killing of 10 people during the May 14 attack. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities say Gendron posted a 180-page document online days before the shooting that cited a racist theory claiming White Americans are intentionally being replaced by non-Whites for political reasons. Additional messages written by someone identifying himself as Gendron state that he visited the Buffalo supermarket in March to assess security and map the aisles, The Post reported.

A few weeks passed after Wysocki’s alleged exchange with Gendron. Then on May 14, she returned from a smoke break to restock bananas when she heard what she described as “firecrackers.”

“Pop! Pop! Pop!” Wysocki recounted hearing. Perhaps two people had gotten into a gunfight in the parking lot, she first thought. Then she heard screaming — and rapid gunfire.

“It was like a war zone. ‘He’s shooting! He’s shooting!’ ” Wysocki recalled people inside the store screaming.

That’s when a colleague pulled Wysocki by the arm and led her to the conference room, where they hid with others as the rampage unfolded. “We could actually hear him moving closer to us and then away,” she told The Post. Others hid inside freezers and fridges.

After what felt like an eternity, another colleague knocked on the door, identified himself and confirmed that it was safe for them to escape through the store’s back door. She is convinced the colleague who pulled her into the conference room, along with Aaron Salter Jr. — the store’s security guard and a recently retired police officer who was shot and killed in the attack — saved the lives of the dozens who managed to escape.

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When Wysocki learned Gendron had been charged in connection with the shooting, she could not help but place some blame on herself.

“I feel like I missed something,” Wysocki said. “He was feeling our store and our customers, and he knew where the guards were.”

“How do I make this go away? It’s never going to go away,” she added. “This was just the worst day of my life.”

Wysocki and her co-workers are attending daily counseling sessions to cope with the grief. They lost a beloved colleague and regular customers — but she said many of the employees will eventually return to work once Tops reopens.

“We can’t let him win,” she told The Post. “That’s why we’re going back to that store … Every day. We are together every day.”

Shayna Jacobs, Jon Swaine and Dalton Bennett contributed to this report.



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