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Chance meeting at Chicago airport leads to healing for family member of Tops shooting victim returning to Buffalo

Posted at 3:27 PM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 21:22:59-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Many Western New Yorkers have experienced the phenomenon— you're in another state or even another country, and you happen upon someone else from Buffalo.

One of those chance meetings happened in Chicago this week, and it turned into a healing moment for a man grieving the loss of his cousin in the mass shooting on May 14.

Previn Brock Sanders' cousin, Aaron Salter, Jr., was working as a security guard on May 14 at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue. He was killed after attempting to stop the gunman. Sanders booked a flight from Tucson back home to Buffalo to mourn.

"The day is somewhat of a blur," Sanders said. "I had a bunch of anxiety, my heart is broken. My cousin who is a real live hero has been murdered— and there's no sense to any of it."

Buffalo native Julie Quinn says she was sitting at the gate at Chicago's Midway Airport, waiting for a "full flight" back to Buffalo when she noticed Brock Sanders.

"We exchanged glances and I felt a kind of warmth rush over me," Julie wrote in a Facebook post.

Upon boarding the plane, Julie says she ended up with an open seat next to her. When Brock boarded, she says that she shouted, "come sit next to me!"

"I knew I needed to be near him," Julie told 7 News anchor Jeff Russo. "I don't know why, but I just needed to be near him."

Brock recalls how he felt when he was boarding the plane, "in all honesty, I was looking for somewhere that felt safe, as crazy as that sounds, and she just felt safe." Brock added, "there was a general care and concern. . . . she was like, 'come sit here,' and I was like, 'absolutely.'"

Brock opened up to Julie on the flight, telling her about what had happened to his cousin.

"She said 'I understand,' and I kind of looked at her questioningly when she said that, because you know, when those things happen, nobody knows how I feel," Brock said. "She said 'I understand,' then she tells me her story of her brother."

Julie's brother was killed in 2015 in what Julie describes as a "random act of gun violence" in Kaisertown.

"With great loss and grief comes great empathy and compassion," Julie said. "And I just felt it with him."

The pair became fast friends on the flight, even taking a picture together.

Brock Sanders, the cousin of Buffalo shooting victim Aaron Salter Jr., and Julie Quinn of Buffalo shared moments of healing on a plane back to the City of Good Neighbors.

The picture has special meaning to Brock now.

"I wasn't fundamentally happy, and when I look at that picture, in that moment when we are smiling, in that second, she had given me something," Brock said. "I see there— a gift."

Julie added, "I have a friend for life. I feel that very strongly. . . . He made a profound impact on me in 90 minutes."

Brock and Julie exchanged information and plan to stay in contact.