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Tops employee who barricaded co-workers says he'll go back to work as soon as store reopens

Jerome says he's still reliving the tragedy every day
Posted at 2:17 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 09:31:36-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — 83 people work at the Tops Friendly Markets on Jefferson Avenue, also known as store #250. Employees describe it as one big family.

"And I enjoyed going to work every day, I had a smile on my face," said Jerome Bridges, Lead Scan Coordinator at the store.

He's worked there for four years, earning a promotion in October. Smiling is now something that's difficult for Bridges, as he relives the horrors of Saturday afternoon.

"It's messing with my sleep. Every time I closed my eyes all I can see, is that guy shooting people inside the store," said Bridges.

That day, he said hello to Ruth Whitfield, as usual, then continued working until he heard gunshots. He then ran to the back of the store, grabbed his coworkers and lead them into the conference room for safety. He tells 7 News he did whatever he could to save lives that day.

"I said y'all need to get low on the ground, be quiet and stay on the floor. I said I don't want this guy to come through the door and shoot, so I pulled the table over to the door and barricaded the doorway," said Bridges.

Employees like Bridges were top of mind for the Tops' President John Persons.

"Certainly we're continuing to pay all the associates in the store and as we will, we'll make sure they have food, we'll make sure they have grief counseling and whatever else they need," said Persons.

The next step for Persons was to support those impacted, creating the 5/14 Survivor's Fund. 100% of the proceeds will support families of victims, employees, the injured and anyone who was there that day who's suffering.

"All of those people are survivors," said Persons.

As for the store, it will re-open as soon as possible.

"Our commitment remains solid, we will be there. I can assure you that walking in that store, it will look fundamentally different inside," said Persons.

He tells 7 News Tops will take the time to make it a great place to shop again. It will also feature murals inside and outside, paying tribute to the Jefferson Ten.

Employees that don't feel comfortable going back, can be placed in another Tops store, said Persons. But that's not an option for Bridges.

"There's not too many Black people in the city of Buffalo who have this position like I do. I'm proud of this position, my manager has faith in me. So if they do decide to open back up, I got his back," said Bridges.