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Jay Whitty storms into a school to save strangers from a Buffalo blizzard


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After knocking on more than a dozen doors of begging for a place to shelter from the historic snowstorm that hit the Buffalo area last week, Jay Whitty headed to his truck bearing bad news.

No one had agreed to let him and another stranded man spend the night of December 23 at their homes in Cheektowaga, New York, as the storm made travel impossible.

Resigned, the men spent the night in the truck and pulled out a stranded woman. They used precious fuel to keep the heater going while the average night temperature was 9 degrees.

By morning, Whitty wasn’t sure how much longer the women could last without food and water.

“I look at the map on my phone and I see there’s a school nearby,” Whitty, 27, said Friday in an interview with The Washington Post. He told the woman: “I’m breaking into this school. I know there’s heat, I know there’s a bathroom, and I bet there’s food.

His desperate decision may have saved dozens of lives during a storm that stranded hundreds of people in a major urban area that is still assessing the damage more than a week later.

Outside Cheektowaga High School, EDGE Academy, the woman was worried they would have trouble breaking in. Whitty decided he would have to explain his decision to school officials and authorities later, but he pointed out that it was the trio’s best chance of surviving the blizzard. The three eventually entered the building after Whitty smashed a side window with a brake pad he found in his truck.

After both strangers were settled inside, Whitty approached other cars stranded nearby, offering their occupants a place to spend the night.

“I didn’t want anyone else to suffer,” Whitty said. “I put myself in a position to save a whole bunch of people. I have as many people as I can.

Buffalo is no stranger to snow. Why was the storm so deadly?

By the end of the weekend, Whitty had offered shelter to about two dozen strangers, including children and two dogs. He left behind a handwritten note explaining the break-in.

It read: “To whomever it may concern, I am terribly sorry for the breaking of the school window and the smashing in the kitchen. I was stuck at 8pm on a Friday sleeping in my truck with two strangers who were just trying not to die. There were also 7 elderly people stranded and out of fuel. I had to do it to save everyone and provide them with shelter, food and a bath. Merry Christmas – Jay.

Like Whitty, hundreds of people were stranded in their cars and homes as the blizzard hit western New York, causing travel banchanging vacation plans and leading up to criticism of district leaders.

the blizzard – Buffalo’s deadliest disaster after a decade — to the left at least 39 people died in Erie County, the number, officials say, is expected to rise as emergency responders gain access to other areas in the coming days. The most of those killed were people of color.

Buffalo blizzard fuels racial and class divisions in polarized city

But as the city dug itself out of the snowstories about unknown lenders a hand kept appearing.

DeMario Johnson and his mother, Addie Johnson, were also stranded near Cheektowaga School. On December 23, they were on their way to a relative’s house – they ran away Addie Johnson’s home without power — when their car got stuck in the mud, DeMario Johnson, 50, told The Post.

The storm made it impossible to rescue them, emergency services told them, so they and Addy’s 3-year-old Shih Tzu, DJ, spent the night in their car.

“To whomever it may concern, I am terribly sorry for the breaking of the school window and the smashing in the kitchen. I was stuck at 8pm on a Friday sleeping in my truck with two strangers who were just trying not to die. There were also 7 elderly people stranded and out of fuel. I had to do it to save everyone and provide them with shelter, food and a bath. Merry Christmas – Jay.

At the time Whitty found them on Dec. 24, Addie Johnson, 71, didn’t believe they would make it out of the blizzard alive, her son told The Post.

Whitty said he planned to use the school as a blizzard shelter, but Addie Johnson was worried about getting into trouble.

“We’re going to jail,” she told her son.

“Maybe not,” DeMario Johnson replied.

They accepted Withey’s proposal.

Once inside, Whitty was able to open the cafeteria and found cereal, juice, water, and coffee for the group. Cook pizza for lunch and meatballs for dinner. The group spent the hours in the cafeteria eating and getting to know each other. They shared what Christmas meant to everyone, where they went to school, what they did for a living and how they found themselves stranded in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.

“We were just happy to have shelter, food and a new family,” Addy told The Post. “On Christmas morning we all woke up and said Merry Christmas to everyone.”

At one point during the weekend, Whitty found the set of master keys and opened a room to get a TV so the group could watch movies in the cafeteria. When night came, some slept on chairs and others on the ground. After the weather improved, the men helped Whitty clear the snow from his cars with a snowblower he found at the school.

Before the last person left on Christmas Day, the crew of strangers created a group chat called “Blizzard Survivors” where they planned to gather for a summer picnic. They cleaned the school, washed the dishes and took out the trash before they parted ways.

They wanted to make sure they left things as they found them, as a thank you to the school that sheltered, fed and entertained them.

After reviewing security footage, school grounds and the handwritten note, Cheektowaga police called Whitty’s actions “heroic” and said will not press charges related to the break-in. The school district, which said Whitty acted “out of desperation,” I thanked the quick-thinking man for his “selfless, life-saving and brave efforts” to get people to safety.

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