New York pastor seeks inspiration in Emanuel 9 tragedy after fatal grocery store shooting

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – “We are strong, but we are broken.”

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

Reverend Kevin Coakley is the pastor of Durham Memorial AME Zion Church in Buffalo, New York. This is the church Ruth Whitfield attended. At 86, Whitfield was the oldest victim killed in the Tops Friendly Market massacre on Saturday.

Nine others also lost their lives and three others were injured. The youngest victim was 20 years old.

Pastor Coakley grew up in Mount Pleasant. He says the response to the tragedy of Emanuel 9, where a white gunman targeted black worshipers in 2015, was his guide on how to bring the community together.

“And we must stand on this new commandment that God has given us to love one another, even those who are unlovable. And so Charleston and Mount Pleasant taught that, and they lived it and so it’s part of my DNA.

Investigators say the white shooter, 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 this black community, it is a community that is welcoming. Buffalo is known as the city of good neighbors,” Coakley said.

Coakley remembers Whitfield as a beautiful and faithful church member.

“In the choir, a church officer, a very active, gentle, gentle, loving person,” Coakley said.

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

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

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