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Mass Shooting Survivor Zaire Goodman and Mother Zeneta Everhart, ’08, are Valued Members of the Villa Maria College Community

On Saturday, May 14, Zaire Goodman was at work at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue in the City of Buffalo. He was assisting a customer with her cart when he was shot at close range by a gunman who opened fire on the grocery store, ultimately injuring 2 other people and killing 10 more.

Between 2019 and 2020, Goodman attended Villa Maria College. His mother, Zeneta Everhart, whom he called after the shooter left him for dead, is a 2008 graduate and a current member of the College’s Board of Trustees.

“Zaire is a uniquely talented and creatively gifted student, having studied both digital filmmaking and game design during his time at Villa Maria College,” said Dr. Ryan Hartnett, vice president for academic affairs. “He was a proud member of the College’s Achieve Program for Students with Learning Differences and my mentee. I have enjoyed a close relationship with Zaire, and I’ve seen both his creative talent and maturity evolve over time. Most of all, Zaire is a humble and gentle soul, exuding genuine kindness to everyone he interacts with.”

Laura Pietak, director of the Achieve Program, echoed this sentiment.

“Zaire is a great kid,” she said. “He is soft spoken and one of the nicest students to work with. I think everyone in Achieve would agree with that. He is open and approachable, and I saw him develop strong friendships with lots of other students. He was always helpful, often putting the needs of other students before his own and he was an advocate for his peers.”

Professor Jeff Werner, who taught Goodman’s game design classes, added that Goodman is passionate, and that is reflected in the work he did off campus.

Goodman is dedicated to bringing awareness to the global warming crisis. In 2019, he collaborated with other filmmakers and media artists through Buffalo Youth Media Institute to create 1988, a grant-funded film that addresses the climate crisis. “I realized while working on the film that not a lot of people care about global warming,” he said. “Some won’t even acknowledge that it’s a thing. It’s not okay.”

Like her son, Everhart is also a valued part of the Villa community.

“Zeneta is Villa personified,” said President Matthew Giordano. “She represents everything we believe in, everything we aspire to be and do. As an alum, a Trustee, a parent, and a vital part of our family, she uses her considerable talents and intellect to make our community better, living out our core values each and every day. She is beloved, here and throughout Western New York.”

Everhart currently serves the Western New York Community as the director of diversity and inclusion for New York State Senator Tim Kennedy 63rd District. There, she has worked to draft diversity and inclusion legislation and helps to direct equitable resources to the East Side of Buffalo. Outside of her professional work, she established the Single Moms Club of Buffalo, a digital space for single mothers to connect, share, and engage socially.

“What Zeneta and Zaire are going through now hits us extremely hard and we are committed to supporting them over the long haul, just as we know they would do for any of us,” said Dr. Giordano. “We extend our prayers, support, and solidarity to Zaire and Zeneta and assure them that we will be here for them, not just today, not just this week, but for however long they need us as they heal.” Villa Maria College will make this support tangible by offering Zaire a full tuition scholarship to complete his studies when he is able. The scholarship will be available to him for as long as he needs to complete his degree.

Villa Maria staff have confirmed that a current student was also present in Tops during the incident, and due to Villa Maria’s proximity to the East Side and the number of students who live in the area, Dr. Giordano expects to learn of more connections between our Villa family and this mass shooting.

“Many of our students, alumni, and staff members live in the neighborhoods directly affected,” he said in a letter addressed to the College community. “The sense of violation and horror they must feel is indescribable.”

“As a Catholic, Felician college, as a college of peace, as a college that promotes compassion and respect, as the local private college with the highest percentage of African-American students, as a college that is committed to and works closely with many organizations on the East Side, as a college that has Schiller Park and the East Side as its backyard, and as a college that furthers higher learning, Villa Maria College bears an important and critical responsibility in the days and years ahead, continued Dr. Giordano’s letter.”

“It is our responsibility to lead. It is our responsibility to actively fight racism, hatred, and violence and to improve the communities that have been most affected by these scourges. It is our responsibility to dispel baseless and dangerous conspiracy theories, to counter disinformation with real education. It is our responsibility to foster dialogue and communication,” he concluded.

Villa Maria College is hosting a Memorial Prayer Service for the victims of this on Thursday, May 19 at 1 PM. The College is located at 240 Pine Ridge Road in Buffalo. We come together as a community to pray, heal, and recognize the role we need to play to make our world a better place.

The prayer service is only the beginning for the College.

“Information on next steps will be coming soon,” wrote Dr. Giordano in a memo to College students, staff, and faculty. “We anticipate being actively involved on the ground as the community responds. We will share information about resources available to help us cope with this tragedy. We also will coordinate specific responses for members of our community who were directly impacted. There are many longer-term actions that we need to take, as well, to combat the rot of racism and violence.”