By Sharif Paget, Caroll Alvarado and Jeanne Bonner, CNN
Abdul Sharifu, 26, left his home in Buffalo Saturday afternoon in blizzard conditions to get milk and other supplies. He never made it back.
Sharifu is among at least 39 fatalities in Erie County, New York, from the winter storm that buried the city of Buffalo in nearly 52 inches of snow, trapping residents at home — many without heat as the Christmas weekend blizzard took out power.
Most of the victims were found dead either outside or in their homes, while others died in their cars, as the result of delayed emergency medical service, and while removing snow or from cardiac arrest, officials said.
Those lost were beloved mothers, daughters and sons and, in the case of Sharifu, a jubilant expectant father with a big heart.
His wife, Gloria Mawazo, who is pregnant and days away from giving birth, told his cousin Ally Sharifu that her husband had left to get provisions for a family who’d asked for his help.
She advised him not to go before she laid down for a nap at around noon, Ally Sharifu said. When she woke up that evening, her husband was not at the house.
After sharing his photo on Facebook, the family got a call about a man rushed to a children’s hospital after he was found lying on the street, said Ally Sharifu, who identified his cousin’s body at a hospital the next morning. The men were refugees from Congo who resettled in the US in 2017 after spending about five years in a Burundi refugee camp, he said.
While Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a press conference on Wednesday that Abdul went out to get food for his pregnant wife, family members believe he was actually shopping for another family — which was typical of him.
“My cousin was too good of a man. When you called him to help you, he would help,” said Ally Sharifu, who shares a home with his cousin and his wife. “That’s why he went outside to get the milk, because he wouldn’t care what the outside looks like, he will try to come and help you.”
The family has yet to learn from the hospital or authorities what caused Abdul’s death, Ally Sharifu said.
Ally Sharifu said Abdul was “so happy to become a father” and was saving up money to buy a house. Abdul worked at a manufacturing plant in Cheektowaga as a machine operator, he said.
A close friend of the family, Enock Rushikana, told CNN that Abdul’s parents died in the civil war that took place in 2002 in Congo.
“He was raised as an orphan, so he had this dream to go back and help those kids who lost their parents in the civil war,” Rushikana said. “He was an angel in our community. We nicknamed him ‘911,’ because whoever called him, he was ready to help.”
Monique Alexander was considered a kind of superwoman by her daughter, Casey Maccarone. But even so, when Alexander, 52, decided to go out on Christmas Eve, Maccarone worried.
It would have been a simple decision any other day, but a blizzard was setting in.
After two hours, when she had not returned, Maccarone asked on a Buffalo blizzard Facebook page if anyone had seen her mom, she said.
Minutes later, a stranger messaged her and asked to call her, Maccarone said.
“He just instantly broke down crying,” she said. “He was stranded as well and he was walking down the street and he saw her in the snow. So, he picked her up and he placed her under the awning … so that she wouldn’t get snowed on anymore.
“Her grandkids were waiting for her to come home,” she added. “We were waiting for her to come home.”
Alexander had been through tough storms before, and she walked everywhere.
“She’s always felt … invincible, so I’m assuming that she just thought she could handle the conditions,” Maccarone said. “Can’t really tell my mom anything, she’s going to do what she wants to do. I’m assuming she just thought she was strong enough for it.”
Maccarone said the family lost its rock and someone they could call on for everything.
“My kids they lost their grandmother, and that was her most important role in her life … being a good grandmother,” she said. “And now they just have memories.”
Demetrius Robinson, a 58-year-old carpenter, was found in a snowbank a day before his birthday, his sister Elizabeth Rodolph told CNN.
“Such a lovely person has been taken out of our lives,” Rodolph said. “He was the friendliest, gentlest, and most lovable and joyous person you’ll ever encounter.”
Robinson’s family became concerned after they were unable to reach him last Friday, she said. They went by his home early this week but it was a call to the coroner’s office that brought them the unwanted answer. His body had been sent there on Sunday.
Rodolph said she wasn’t sure what Robinson was doing outside or how long his body was in the snow before it was found.
She said he enjoyed sharing his hobby of cooking.
“He loved cooking. He would always invite the neighborhood kids who were outside playing over to eat whatever he made. He treated everyone like family,” Rodolph said.
He leaves a son and a daughter.
Robinson’s son, Marqll Daniels, described his dad as his role model and hero.
“I always looked up to dad for a lot of things. He would always talk to me about how to be a good man. He had a really big heart,” Daniels said.
Melissa Morrison was found in the snow near a Tim Horton’s Coffee House in Buffalo.
Her body was recovered after her mother, Linda Addeo, had grown worried when her son read social media posts Friday about a body found near the coffee shop by Morrison’s home. Addeo said the coroner’s office on Tuesday confirmed to her family the body was that of Morrison, a 46-year-old mother of two from Buffalo.
The family is unsure what Morrison was doing outside, Addeo said. She leaves behind two sons.
“Today is the most devastating day of our lives, we lost our beautiful daughter to the storm,” Linda Addeo wrote on Facebook on Tuesday after she was notified of her daughter’s death.
She added, “I don’t know how or what to do, I’ll never be the same.”
Morrison was a Buffalo native, homemaker, and mother.
“She was a young and beautiful person. She was outgoing and funny. She would do anything for anybody,” Addeo said.
Anndel Taylor was a 22-year-old woman who had grown up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and who remained in contact with family members there throughout her final hours in the storm.
She was found dead after being trapped in her car by the blizzard, her family told CNN on Tuesday.
Taylor was driving home from work at a senior citizen center and was only six minutes away by car from her house when she became stranded, said the relatives, who became frantic when they lost touch with her.
Tomeshia Brown, one of Taylor’s older sisters, told CNN that Taylor sent a video to a group chat with her sisters around 3 p.m. on Friday. In the video, Taylor captured the snow and whiteout conditions. She told her sisters who live in North Carolina that she was stuck and the snow kept falling, Brown said.
Taylor called 911 and was waiting for first responders, Brown and Wanda Brown Steele — Taylor’s mother — told CNN.
“Her plan was to wait until the police got there,” her sister said. But if that failed, she planned to “get up and walk once her car ran out of gas.”
In the early hours of Christmas Eve, Taylor would send her last video message to the group chat. In it, Taylor cracks open the driver’s side window of her car, revealing a road turned into a barren, snowy wasteland. Taylor texted the chat that she thought the snow would probably be up to her waist if she got out of her car.
Having tracked her phone to an address, Brown posted the information to a private Facebook page called Buffalo Blizzard 2022 to ask for help. Later that evening, she got a phone call from an unnamed man. “He let us know he checked her pulse and there was no pulse,” Brown said.
“I really didn’t believe it,” she said. “It was like a piercing feeling in my stomach, a pain I’ve never felt before.”
It would not be until the next day that Taylor’s body was removed from the car, Brown said, after a woman sent a message on Facebook to let Brown know that she had also located the car — and her sister’s body.
With emergency personnel unable to reach the car, the woman waited until Taylor’s relatives who live in Buffalo arrived. They all helped move Taylor’s body into another vehicle, where she was taken to the hospital, Brown said.
Taylor was described by her sister as “a caring and nurturing person.”
“If she could help, she would help you,” her mother said.
Taylor would have turned 23 next month, Brown said.
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CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Miguel Marquez, Dakin Andone, Amanda Musa, David Williams, Jeanne Bonner and Bonney Knapp contributed to this story.