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NY pastor looks to Emanuel 9 tragedy for inspiration after deadly mass shooting at grocery store

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 7:38 PM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2022 at 6:10 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - “We are strong, but we are broken.”

That’s the message from a pastor in New York, who has ties to the Charleston area, following a deadly shooting in Buffalo over the weekend.

Rev. Kevin Coakley is the pastor of Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Buffalo, N.Y. That’s the church that Ruth Whitfield attended. At age 86, Whitfield was the oldest victim killed in the massacre at the Tops Friendly Market on Saturday.

Nine others also lost their lives, and three others were wounded. The youngest victim was 20.

Pastor Coakley grew up in Mount Pleasant. He says the response to the Emanuel 9 tragedy, where a white gunman targeted black worshippers in 2015, has been his guiding light on how to bring the community together.

“And we have to stand on that new command that God has given us to love one another, even the unlovable. And So Charleston and Mount Pleasant have taught that, and they have lived it and so it’s a part of my DNA.”

Investigators say the gunman who is white, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was motivated by hate, targeting a supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community. He was arrested and charged.

Coakley says Buffalo’s African American community is warm and kind.

“And to target that black community, that’s a community that is welcoming. Buffalo is known as the city of good neighbors” Coakley said.

Coakley remembers Whitfield as a beautiful, faithful church member.

“On the choir, an officer of the church, very active, sweet, sweet, loving person,” Coakley said.

He says the shooting has left the people of the community and church shocked, speechless, and numb.

“We are hurt, the members are just left with unanswered questions. We are angry, we’re frustrated. It’s a very somber, and very hurt and broken place where we are right now,” Coakley said.

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