A year after deadly shooting, Minnesota community of Buffalo strives for resilience

On Feb. 9, 2021, a man later identified by authorities as Gregory Ulrich, walked into a clinic, shot five people and set off several explosive devices before calling 911 and surrendering to police.

Dani Palmer displays one of the “Buffalo Strong” yard signs that can be seen throughout the city of Buffalo, Minnesota. The movement was formed after the tragic attack at an Allina Health clinic in Buffalo last year and has been focused on strengthening mental health resources in the community.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

BUFFALO, Minn. -- Dani Palmer was working at her home in Buffalo on Feb. 9, 2021, when she first heard that something terrible was happening at a local health clinic.

On a community Facebook site, people wondered why emergency vehicles were streaming toward the clinic, sirens wailing. Palmer soon received a text that her children’s school was in lockdown.

"It's just nerve-racking. It is for anyone in that situation,” she said. “I think it's just even more so because we are such a small, tight-knit community. It's just kind of shocking."

Palmer and the rest of the country soon learned that Buffalo was the latest U.S. city stricken by gun violence, joining the ranks of other communities whose names have become synonymous with mass shootings.

A Wright County Sheriff vehicle is seen parked outside the Allina Health clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, after a shooting there on Feb. 9, 2021.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images via MPR News

A man, later identified by authorities as Gregory Ulrich, walked into the clinic, shot five people and set off several explosive devices before calling 911 and surrendering to police.


Medical assistant Lindsay Overbay, a mother of two, died of gunshot wounds. Four others were injured, and are still dealing with physical and emotional scars.

Buffalo residents were left reeling with shock and disbelief that a mass shooting could happen in this community of 16,000 people.

Among those whose lives were changed on that cold February day were Buffalo police Chief Pat Budke and his officers, who were among the first to arrive at the clinic.

Although Budke’s department trained for this type of scenario, he said he didn't want to believe it was happening in his community.

"I've heard other people that have gone through similar scenarios and experiences say the same thing – like, ‘It doesn't happen here,’” Buffalo, Minnesota, Chief of Police Pat Budke said. “It does. It can."
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

"I've heard other people that have gone through similar scenarios and experiences say the same thing – like, ‘It doesn't happen here,’” Budke said. “It does. It can. And I think that's something that all of us that went through it have learned — that it can happen to you."

It didn't take long for Buffalo residents to move from shock and fear to wanting to do something. Palmer called Mayor Teri Lachermeier, who asked her to attend a meeting of community leaders discussing how to respond.

"Our whole community is like aching for a response, and aching for a way to help,” Palmer said. “What if we create almost like a battle cry, a campaign that helps people know how they can help and show their solidarity?”

Palmer, a marketing and development consultant, offered to help organize the effort, which was christened “Buffalo Strong.”


“I think we just knew we wanted to make sure that people in our community felt connected to each other and to what's available to them,” she said.

‘Buffalo Strong’

By the next morning, they'd launched a website, listing free counseling services and trauma support, blood drives, virtual prayer circles and links to donation funds for victims.

"It was just amazing how everybody came together, and [said], ‘Where can we help, and where can we send money? And how can we help those that are affected?’” said Sue Olmscheid, president of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. “It was just immediate."

The effort raised thousands of dollars for the victims of the shootings and the Buffalo Hospital Foundation.

A purple buffalo statue stands in front of the Allina clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, to remind the community that they are stronger when they come together.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Residents lit up their homes and businesses with purple lights and posted Buffalo Strong signs in their yards to show their support.

As weeks passed and the national spotlight turned away from Buffalo, organizers wanted to keep the movement going. They formed a nonprofit corporation and began to look at how to tackle the larger issue of mental health.

"People are struggling,” Olmscheid said. “Obviously, the shooter was battling mental health issues. And now we've got mental health issues because of the shooting. You're already kind of in a weird mental state because of the pandemic, and now you got this in your backyard.”

The shortage of services for those struggling with mental health isn’t new, or limited to Buffalo, police Chief Budke said. He estimates that as many as half of the calls to his department are related to mental health issues, often undiagnosed.


"It's a common problem, where the support for people who need help and need it right now is postponed,” Budke said. “And postponing does not help.”

Acres of sunflowers, shown here on July 25, 2021, were planted near the Allina Health clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, last summer to entice people to come together to begin the healing process.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Buffalo Strong organizers plan to continue their efforts to address mental health and connect people with help they need.

That includes encouraging residents to check on one another, and help those who might be struggling or isolated due to the pandemic, said Lachermeier.

"We might make a difference, just in the little town of Buffalo, reaching out to a neighbor, reaching out to someone (who) we see is struggling,” the mayor said.

Allina’s Buffalo Crossroads clinic reopened in September after renovations to make it brighter and improve security. Outside stands a buffalo statue purchased with community donations, which clinic staff named Phoenix.

Ulrich was charged in Wright County District Court with first-degree murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting. A jury trial is scheduled for May.

Organizers hope to reclaim Feb. 9, the anniversary of the shooting, as a day of healing and strength.

This year, that will involve a community wellness fair, with free child care and yoga sessions. Former National Hockey League player Clint Malarchuk will speak about his own mental health struggles after his neck was cut by another player’s skate.


Palmer said she knows the day will be difficult for many whose lives were forever changed by the shooting. But she also takes heart in how the community rose to the tragedy with love and support.

“I think no matter how much we try, somebody is always going to go through something horrible,” she said. “What resilience is about is how you respond to it. And our community has that in spades.”

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