CHICAGO – The first of two African-American grocery shoppers shot dead by a white gunman in an attack described by police as racially motivated was to be laid to rest Tuesday.
Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, were gunned down on Wednesday last week at a suburban store in Louisville, Kentucky.
Their deaths came days before an anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh and as a spate of mail bombs sent to high-profile liberals was fueling a national reckoning over deepening political and racial divisions.
Stallard’s funeral was due to take place at a church in southeast Louisville while Jones will be laid to rest in the city on Saturday.
The suspected gunman, 51-year-old Gregory Bush, allegedly tried but failed to get into the predominantly black First Baptist Church in the suburb of Jeffersontown.
He is then alleged to have headed to a nearby grocery store and opened fire multiple times on Stallard inside the story and Jones in the parking lot.
Jeffersontown police chief Sam Rogers told a Sunday service at the First Baptist Church the attack was “racist in nature.”
“I’m angered that we as a society continue to have issues of racism and violence,” he said.
Bush — who allegedly told a bystander that “whites don’t kill whites” — is in custody, charged with two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment.
Stallard was remembered by friends as a central figure in their community. He was the father of a high-ranking official in Louisville’s city government.
“He’s just well-loved by many people,” friend Phil Fletcher told NBC-affiliated local television station WAVE.
Jones was remembered as a devoted daughter and a breast cancer survivor. She was at the grocery store to buy food to take to her ailing mother, community activist Sadiqa Reynolds told radio station WBUR.
“She was the person going over, checking on her mother, taking care of her,” said Reynolds, of the Louisville Urban League.
The shooting “has been devastating for both families. It is numbing. And the city is mourning,” she added.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who has called for toughening hate crime and gun laws, said he will joint interfaith leaders for a “moment of unity” Wednesday to remember Stallard and Jones.
“Please, wherever you are, take a moment to reflect on these tragedies and the actions we must take to end violence,” Fischer said on Twitter.
On Saturday a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.
Meanwhile a man accused of sending 15 mail bombs — none of which exploded — to prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump appeared Monday in Miami federal court.
There have been questions raised over the role the president’s heated rhetoric has played in fostering a toxic atmosphere that has encouraged the alleged attackers — a possibility the White House has rejected.
The first two victims in the Pittsburgh attack also were laid to rest Tuesday.
The funeral for Cecil and David Rosenthal — brothers aged 59 and 54 — was held at Rodef Shalom temple and attended by hundreds of mourners.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5