The words of Yvonne (Tootsie) Martin will linger for years in the hearts of about 60 leaders of the Basilica of St. Mary.
"Don't worry, I've got your back," Martin had told them.
On Saturday, Nov. 11, the lay leaders had gathered for a retreat at Ascension Catholic Church, a sister church of the Basilica's on Minneapolis' North Side.
As part of the retreat, the Basilica people had taken a school bus tour of the good, the bad and the hopeful parts of north Minneapolis hosted by City Council Member Don Samuels.
As they boarded the bus, they had been greeted by a driver with a huge smile on her face.
"How you doing, I'm Tootsie," Martin had said, instantly befriending each of the passengers.
As the bus headed into some of the harsher areas of our city, the passengers got a message from Tootsie.
"There are a lot of people who would tell you that you should be afraid in this neighborhood," she had said. "Don't worry, I've got your back."
On Sunday, a huge, diverse crowd gathered at a vigil outside Tootsie's north Minneapolis home. Samuels spoke. Family members spoke. Friends spoke.
Then, Samuels looked over the diverse throng.
"The circle has been expanded," he said as a way of inviting others to step forward.
A man from the Basilica, who had been on the bus tour, stepped forward.
"She told us that she would protect us," the man said. "It's so sad we weren't able to protect her."
Martin, mother, grandmother, pillar of Ascension Church, bus driver, friend of anyone she smiled at -- and she smiled at everyone -- was found shot to death in her north Minneapolis home at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 13. She was 47 years old. No arrests have been made.
Statistically, she became this year's murder victim No. 55. Her murder was reported last week in just four paragraphs in the back of the newspaper's metro section. No arrests have been made.
We're all complex, a mix of good, not-so-good, ups and downs.
But this is the Tootsie that most knew:
She filled Ascension Church.
Every Sunday, she sat in the front row, keeping a handful of her grandchildren in line. At the sign of peace, that moment when people turn and shyly greet each other, Tootsie and her grandkids were at their robust best, joyfully spreading "peace" throughout the church.
She was nominated by her boss at the First Student school bus company, Todd Bauman, for the School Bus AAA Hall of Fame -- not just because she was a safe driver, but "because she made everyone feel good," Bauman said.
Samuels met her just once, on that bus tour.
"An outgoing, endearing character," the council member said. "She was telling people that there are problems and that it can be dangerous in north Minneapolis. But then, she'd say how much she loved it. It was almost as if she made a last vibrant contribution for change in this place she loved. Her death becomes this poignant statement."
Her death came less than 48 hours after she assured her 60 new friends that they shouldn't be concerned, because she had their back. Doug Grow, StarTribune