A South Buffalo woman’s plans for Christmas baking turned into a night of terror last year as she headed to the store to buy milk.
Recounting to a judge this week how two men with a sawed-off shotgun confronted her outside her home, she described what happened during the frightening encounter.
She’s also thankful.
“I thank God every day that it was me who walked out that door – not my only child,” the 53-year-old woman said.
Her son had told her they needed milk for baking after she came home from work Dec. 19.
At first she suggested to her son that he walk to the corner store, but since she was still wearing her coat and had her keys in her hand, she went herself.
“The events that occurred in the next few minutes could have unfolded very differently had an 18-year-old young man, my son, been faced with the situation that I faced,” the woman told Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio.
DiTullio sentenced Melvin Virgil to 14 years in prison and Khaled Yaghi to eight years.
“What Mr. Virgil and Mr. Yaghi did to me that night will haunt me for years to come,” the woman told the judge.
In her victim impact statement, she said she was walking to her van on Richfield Avenue shortly after 8 p.m. when Virgil, 23, of Niagara Street, and Yaghi, 30, of Tupper Street, approached her.
She said Virgil pulled out a shotgun and told her to get into her van.
“As I backed up closer to my van I shouted, ‘No, get away from me!’ ” she told the judge. “Mr. Yaghi looked on as Mr. Virgil persisted with his demand and was now clearly even more intent on forcing me into the van as he carefully and deliberately displayed a long-barreled steel gray gun. I was terrified. I was trapped.”
She said she thought about running away but decided against it because they were younger and bigger than her.
“I had no options,” she continued. “They allowed me no choice except to stand there frozen, wondering if he was going to shoot me, or beat me, or rush into my home and hurt my family.
“By the grace of God I was able to maintain my composure,” she said. “Suddenly, my hands in my coat pockets, I felt my keys in my hand and somehow had the wherewithal to fumble around and find the panic button on the key fob. Standing under the brightness of the street lamp, my eyes switching focus again and again from the steel gray gun to his face, I pressed it repeatedly, hoping and praying that the blaring horn would scare him and his sentry off.”
But the man with the gun again told her to get in the van. She again pressed the alarm.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “If he was going to hurt me, or kill me, I had nothing to lose by continuing to push the panic button.”
Still, he told her to get in the van.
“Again, I pushed the button, the horn sounding,” she said. “Finally, finally, they retreated.”
She rushed into her house, locked the door and called 911. After she got off the phone, she kept looking outside, fearing that the men may have followed her and fearing for her family’s safety. When police arrived, she said, her fears slightly subsided.
Buffalo Police Officer Sean McCabe saw the suspects switching their clothes nearby, said Assistant District Attorney Michael Felicetta.
Felicetta said Virgil gave the shotgun to Yaghi, and the two took off in different directions. The gun was found in a Dumpster behind a pizzeria, he said. A video camera at the business showed Yaghi leaving it there.
Police arrested the two men, and the victim identified them. Both were charged with attempted kidnapping and weapon possession. Each pleaded guilty in September to criminal possession of a weapon.
The judge called the presence of loaded guns on the streets a problem that will not be tolerated, especially when they are in the hands of violent felons. She said the court must respond whenever loaded guns are used to commit crimes.
She cited the defendants’ previous convictions. Virgil had been convicted of two robberies in Buffalo. Yaghi’s record includes five felonies in North Carolina, two in Texas and one in New York, ranging from drug charges to larcenies and burglaries, Felicetta said.