We learned Wednesday that the 70-year-old man attacked and beaten outside a Syracuse 7-Eleven this past weekend succumbed to his injuries. Jim Gifford was a long time member of Elmwood Presbyterian Church, where he volunteered at the food pantry. Our Candace Hopkins spoke with other volunteers there who are struggling to understand Gifford's violent death.
SYRACUSE, N.Y.--"He was just always here, to help and always with his time around God and I don't know where God was for this poor man."
Senseless, tragic and unimaginable, all words friends of Jim Gifford use to describe his death. At the Elmwood Interfaith Food Pantry, the loss of their fellow volunteer has been hard to understand or accept.
"I know he was a peacemaker and there was no reason for that to have to happen to him, he wasn't like out there being a trouble maker or anything," said Elmwood Interfaith Food Pantry volunteer Dianne Zain.
Gifford was a staple of this community, living here for decades. He spent countless hours here at the church. When he wasn't worshipping, he was in the pantry below, helping to feed the area's needy. And he had a routine that included several trips a day to the nearby 7-Eleven.
But Romeo Williams, 18, is accused of shattering that routine Saturday morning. Police say he attacked Gifford for no reason and laughed about it after.
"It's unbelievable that somebody could be that cruel, I've never seen the church so subdued, we heard the news and the pastor had called on Jim and it's like, we couldn't believe it, it was incredible and maybe a little anger mixed in too," said volunteer Lee Howard.
"We were his family, his family didn't live around here, so we became his church family," said volunteer Ann Stafford.
Gifford died from his injuries Wednesday night. And those who cared for him say while his attacker can be punished legally, his true punishment will come from inside.
"When someone has done something that horrendous, he's going to suffer within his own self eventually," said Zain.
Funeral services for Gifford are on hold until his family can get to Syracuse from out of state. Meanwhile, Romeo Williams is in jail, charged with second degree assault. But police say this is now a homicide case and they will consult with the District Attorney's office to determine where they will go from here.
A memorial fund to contribute to funeral services for Gifford is being collected at his church. If you would like to donate, you can send a check to:
Jim Gifford Memorial Fund
Elmwood Presbyterian Church
1640 South Ave
Syracuse, N.Y. 13207