An Esser Avenue grandmother, with an apparent history of mental illness, was fatally shot Wednesday afternoon at the family’s Riverside home after she allegedly lunged at a veteran Buffalo police officer with a pair of butcher knives just after she reportedly stabbed her 4-year-old grandson.
The boy, whose name was withheld by authorities but was known to neighbors as “Manny,” later died after being taken to Women & Children’s Hospital. The child was the city’s 27th homicide victim - and the youngest - of 2012.
The body of the woman, tentatively identified as Charlene M. Fears, 38, was removed from the house by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office at 7 p.m., about three hours after she was struck twice in the midsection by the officer’s gunfire at 193-195 Esser Ave, a double dwelling with a common porch area.
Fears, according to Buffalo Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards, had a butcher knife in each hand and refused to drop them after two police officers confronted her. She was shot after advancing at one of the officers, a 25-year police veteran, in the hallway of the family’s home, authorities said.
“Drop your weapons, drop your weapons,” the officers said, before four shots rang out, said Joseph Saj, a city worker who heard the incident unfold just outside the house.
Records show that it was at least the fifth shooting of a suspect involving Buffalo police officers this year.
Neighbors expressed shock and horror at the afternoon’s events. Neighbors at Esser and Oregon Place, just a few houses away, said they were first alerted to the incident when Tiffany McNally Fears, 22, Charlene Fears’ daughter, began screaming, “Somebody killed my baby.”
Witnesses saw Tiffany Fears administering CPR to the child they knew only as “Manny” when a pair of officers were flagged down at about 4:15 p.m. while patrolling the street. Simultaneously, a call was received by 911 about a child that had been assaulted, police said.
“As the officers approached the residence to determine what happened, and render aid, they discovered the 4-year-old boy bleeding profusely on the porch,” Richards said.
“The 38-year-old woman, who has been identified as the maternal grandmother of the 4-year-old, charged toward the officers armed with two large knives,” Richards said.
That’s when police opened fire.
Authorities said homicide detectives combed the scene for evidence on took place prior to officers’ arrival. The Internal Affairs Division also is investigating, which is departmental protocol in any shooting that involved an officer.
Neither police officials nor Thomas H. Burton, senior attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, who will represent the police officer in internal investigations of the shooting, would identify the officers involved.
Burton stressed, however, that the officer who fired the fatal gunshots is “cooperating fully with both Homicide and Internal Affairs officials” who are handling the investigation.
Burton said the two officers saw that the boy had a “gaping wound” and was being administered to by his distraught mother as they confronted Charlene Fears.
“The officer who fired at her repeatedly told her to drop her weapons and in fact begged her to drop them but she taunted him to kill her,” Burton said. “She lunged at [the police officer who shot her] with butcher knives in each hand, and he had no choice” but to fire at her in self-defense, he said.
The scene of the incident was a door away from the former All Saints Elementary School.
Neighbors said the dead woman, a lifelong Esser resident, had frequently been taken to Housing Court by neighbors.
In addition, police had been called to the Fears home Tuesday afternoon because of a dispute involving Tiffany Fears and a neighbor, according to neighbors.
According to City Court records, Charlene Fears was granted conditional discharges on harassment cases in 1997 and 1999 and in 2007 paid a $75 fine in a traffic case.
Fears, whose Facebook site is mostly blocked from public view, lists “yelling” and “fighting” as interests of hers and listed “bully people” under a personal activity of hers.
But that wasn’t the Fears known to some neighbors.
“If [Charlene] knew that [she hurt Manny], she’d kill herself. That’s just how much she loved him,” said a neighbor who considered Charlene a lifelong friend but declined to give her name. “She’d never do something intentional,” the neighbor said. “It had to be an accident.”
The neighbor said Charlene Fears struggled with bipolar disorder but never gave her the impression she was capable of violent actions.
The boy, neighbors said, was doted on by the family and well cared for by Tiffany, Charlene and other family members who have lived in the house, including Tiffany’s 14-year-old sister, Nicole, and 19-year-old brother, Darrell Fears Jr.
Neighbors described Manny as a “playful” child who was fond of his aunt and uncle and was known for cajoling them into getting ice cream whenever the sound of Mister Softie approached on Esser.