Just over a month ago, Buffalo Mayor Teri Lachermeier found herself faced with a courtroom full of eager journalists. Never before had one of our local officials faced such a crisis and Lachermeier knew she needed to rise to the occasion.
Earlier on the morning of February 9, shots and explosions rang out at the Allina Crossroad Clinic. Details were still hazy but the Wright County Sheriff’s Office called a press conference to address the community.
After first learning about the shooting like most other Buffalo residents, on social media, Lachermeier attempted to assess the situation while fielding calls and messages from the city residents and major news outlets. Shortly after getting off the phone with Governor Tim Walz, who expressed his sympathies and condolences, Mayor Lachermeier arrived at the County Courthouse. A press pool was forming inside in preparation for the announcement. As she entered, she saw the familiar face of the Buffalo Police chief.
“I walked in and the Sheriff wasn’t there yet,” said Lachermeier, “but Chief Budke was there and I walked up and I gave him a hug. I said ‘hi’ to him and then the Sheriff walked in and I gave him a hug. A lead member of the FBI was like ‘You guys all know each other?’ and I go, ‘Well we’re like family. We work together all the time.’ and he’s like, ‘You’re all talking. You good with that?’ And the Sheriff [pointing at Lachermeier] says, ‘She can do it.’ So I knew that at that moment that I was going to be speaking.”.
Many saw Lachermeier as she spoke alongside state and local law enforcement officials, trying to provide a bit of solace in the uncertainty. As she came to the podium, she recognized a few community members in the audience.
“I look at the audience and Dr. Burgdorf is sitting out there. We had just gotten the report that he was the person he was aiming for. And over here is Amy Koch. She used to be a Senator and runs a political podcast. So I have two people I know and I’m focusing in on them. I do this [heart shaped gesture] and I see Dr. Burgdorf breaking down. That’s why Pat [Budke] and I got so emotional when we spoke, because we had two people we knew that were there for all the right reasons. It was the perfect setting to talk to the community because I had two people that I knew and trusted in the audience.”
The next morning, Lachermeier still felt a sense of disbelief.
“It was super raw, but I wasn’t able to feel it yet.” said Lachermeier, “It was like when you have a death in your family and you wake up the next day and you go ‘Was that just a nightmare?’.”
But it wasn’t a nightmare. Instead our community had been hit hard, and as mayor, Lachermeier knew it was her duty to help lead us through our collective recovery.
“The smaller the city, the bigger the hug.”
As it began to process the full breadth of what had happened, Buffalo rallied its support around local law enforcement and Allina staff. Volunteer lists formed and donations poured in from across the state and nation. Many residents reached out to Lachermeier hoping to get involved.
“I had gotten an email from Dani Palmer,” said Lachermeier, “she’s a community member who said she had 100 people that want to volunteer their time and services to the victim’s families and Allina.”
Lachermeier asked Palmer to come to the city offices for a meeting with various community leaders to try to line up the best way for her to help.
“At that meeting, I said, ‘We need to come up with three things that will help bring us together as a community. To show we can do this together, we’re strong.’ And someone said ‘you mean Buffalo strong.’ And Buffalo Strong was born.”
Later they would decide on the tagline Care, Connect, and Continue.
Organizers sought to utilize everyone’s talents in the most effective ways possible. Dani Palmer spoke up to put her career skills to good use.
Palmer, a web designer by trade, worked with Lachermeier to launch buffalostrong.care. The logo was designed by one of Palmer’s colleagues who created it overnight, taking time out of their vacation to Mexico. Within hours, over 1000 volunteers had signed up through the website.
Other community members stepped in to help fundraise and donate food such as the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce and J&J Athletics.
“You can’t ignore when someone wants to help,” said Lachermeier, “because they might be that person like Dani Palmer, who kind of puts it all together. I definitely believe that you’ve got to hone in on the people that want to help. Let them have a voice. If someone has gifts, let them use them, because the minute someone becomes involved, they are now connected to the community. Now they feel like they have ownership.”
Sunflowers and a New Dog
Buffalo is now focused on building back after tragedy and continuing to heal. With the funds raised through buffalostrong.care and various grants, the city is looking to provide the community with additional coping mechanisms and resources to address mental health concerns in the Buffalo area.
“Through the funds raised, we are looking at something called First Aid for Mental Health.” said Lachermeier, “It’s a mental health situation training for anyone who wants it. It’s normally $25 a person. We’re talking about doing larger trainings, or Zooms, that we can have for any community member who wants to and then have it paid for with the money we’ve raised. That’s our next initiative.”
Moving forward, the Buffalo Police Department is also looking at options for more mental health resources, including the introduction of a new mental health service dog in the coming months.
“The Police Department also came upon a dog, named Luna, that they have for mental health. She is basically a dog that will deescalate a call that’s mental health related. So Luna is someone we want to introduce through Buffalo Strong. We will probably do it in May because she’s still being trained.”
Many in the community have found creative ways to continue to show their support for Allina staff and first responders. All throughout town, residents have installed purple lights as a simple way of showing their gratitude. One man has come up with an exciting new idea that the whole community could enjoy.
“Another thing to come out of this is a gentleman named Johnny Fish, who makes beautiful sunflower fields for people to come and enjoy. He calls it Serene and he’s bringing it to Buffalo. He would like to look at property by the Crossroads. I say let the sun shine in. These sunflower fields are going to be a great asset.”
Lachermeier hopes that Buffalo can build back stronger and more united, using this tragedy as a catalyst for positive change.
“I look at it as an opportunity for possibility.” said Lachermeier, “It’s unfortunate that Lindsay lost her life, and that her children will grow up without a mother, but why can’t something wonderful come out of that? Although it was a terrible circumstance, I think something beautiful is going to come out of it with this mental health piece.”
Lachermeier thanked the community for all its support and anticipates a brighter future together.
“It was like watching a symphony be written, how things just came together.” Lachermeier said, “It was like a quilt that was put together, and hopefully we will continue to sew.”