EVERYONE, IT seems, is asking the same question: Why?

Why, on the morning of Christmas Eve, would someone walk into Marie Buck's Southwark grocery with a gun?

Why point it at the 81-year-old Buck, who was standing behind the counter in Marie's Grocery, the shop she had run like a neighborhood matriarch for four decades?

And why continually pull the trigger at point-blank range, striking Buck in the chest at least 11 times before fleeing?

"It's a horrific crime," Homicide Capt. James Clark said Tuesday, adding that nothing was stolen and that Buck was "absolutely targeted," although investigators were trying to figure out why and by whom.

"We really need the public's help," Clark said. "Anyone that saw anything or knows anything, we really need them to come forward."

By Tuesday afternoon, an impromptu memorial had fully consumed the steps of the grocery at 1229 S. Sixth St.

Candles, flowers, handwritten notes and balloons decorated the front of the corner store as family, former patrons and friends swapped stories about her kindness and spirit.

Donna Fikes, 48, called Buck "the sweetest person you'd ever met," who knew her customers and their families by name and even kept a handwritten book with running tabs for customers who couldn't pay on certain days.

She donned costumes around holidays, Fikes said: Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, the New Year's baby. And even though Fikes - who grew up down the street from Buck - has since moved to Odessa, Texas, she always visited the store when she came back to the city.

"First thing you would do . . . was go to Marie's and get a sandwich," said Fikes, who flew back to Philadelphia over the weekend because of Buck's death.

Dolli Lupica, Buck's niece, grew up in the same house as her aunt, just two doors down from the grocery.

Lupica said Buck was the youngest of 11 siblings but universally considered the trunk of her sprawling family tree. Everyone looked to her when they needed something, said Lupica, 74, and Buck would always come through - often with a sprinkling of South Philly spunk (Buck's vocabulary "could make a construction worker blush," Lupica said).

Perhaps the best illustration of Buck's essence was the 50-person feast she orchestrated for her family each Christmas inside her rowhouse.

The table sprawled across the entire first floor, Lupica said, and relatives would gather round and listen as Buck gave a toast to her beloved family.

This year, Lupica said, the family still gathered for a meal, but they couldn't bring themselves to reprise the toast; it just wouldn't have been the same, Lupica said, without Aunt Marie.

Anyone with information about Buck's death is encouraged to call the homicide unit at 215-686-3334. A $20,000 reward is available for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of any homicide suspect.


215-854-2817 @cs_palmer