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Community still feels aftereffects of massacre; City Grill shootings united, divided city

Four young people lost their lives. Four others were shot and wounded, one critically. The shots that rang out one year ago this morning also sent the community, especially on Buffalo's East Side, into collective mourning as it searched in vain for answers.

The massacre outside the City Grill early on the morning of Aug. 14, 2010, had even farther-reaching effects, according to the pastor who will lead a memorial service for the victims today.

"One gunman changed tens of thousands of lives in a matter of minutes," the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen said Saturday, in his office at True Bethel Baptist Church.

"There were many more wounded than the four that were buried -- physically, emotionally and psychologically," Pridgen said. "It affected the entire city of Buffalo and the surrounding area. It either brought people together or pushed them farther apart."

The memorial service will be held in the East Ferry Street church starting at 9:30 a.m. today, led by Pridgen, who also conducted the funerals for the two young women killed last August. Top political and law-enforcement officials are expected to join family members and others at the service.

"Our family still is grieving and mourning the loss," said Dale Stephens, the father-in-law of one of the four victims, Danyell Mackin, 30. "I have two grandchildren who are going to grow up, and the baby [now 1 1/2 ] doesn't even know who her daddy was."

"I just can't believe it's been a year," added Latisha Rogers, Mackin's sister. "It's like it happened yesterday. Not a day goes by that I don't think about that night. I cry every single day."

Mackin was killed in the shooting spree, along with Willie McCaa III, 26; Tiffany Wilhite, 32; and Shawntia McNeil, 27.

Pridgen, in between presiding at funerals and weddings on Saturday, took the time to discuss the larger effects of the multiple shootings.

"The way that I feel it affects African-Americans in general is that it once again [painted] us as being violent, when we're working so hard to turn that stereotype around," Pridgen said. "The vast majority of African-Americans are law-abiding, working people who simply want a piece of the American pie. This one incident has the potential to set back the image of our people by decades."

Yet Pridgen, without ever forgetting the eight people killed or wounded, found some silver linings in the events of the last year.

He praised both the Erie County District Attorney's Office and the Buffalo police for "working their butts off" to encourage witnesses in the community to come forward with information. And some witnesses put their lives on the line to testify against Riccardo M. McCray, who was convicted and later sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"These people have to live the rest of their life not knowing what tomorrow holds," the pastor said. "To me, they became part of the wall of heroes in this entire scenario."

Pridgen also believes that after the multiple shootings, the media in general heard the voices of African-Americans who felt they were not always represented adequately in the media. Some of that happened in community meetings between East Side residents and the media.

"To hear the editor of The Buffalo News come into a church and listen to the voices of people, and for her to write that she was both shaken and changed was huge," Pridgen said.

But Pridgen also cited some indirect negatives after the deadly shooting spree, especially after authorities arrested one suspected shooter, dropped the charges the next day and later charged McCray. There also were public battles about who should receive the reward money.

"It pulled us apart internally in the community around reward money," he said. "It pulled us apart around the question of who was guilty of the murder and who wasn't. To this day, there still is a divide in this community as to who the shooter was."

And outside that community?

"There are still those who utilize the City Grill massacre to profile African-Americans as criminals," he said.

Pridgen was asked about the longer-term effect of the shootings.

Some of that depends on the level of violence inside the black community in the next decade or two.

"My fear is that history won't record it," he said of the massacre. "That in a few years, the names of the deceased and injured won't be remembered more than the name of the murderer."

Pridgen then cited the ongoing hardship for family members.

"The unspoken tragedy for the families and the deceased is that there will be many who will never see them as innocent victims," he said.

Stephens, Mackin's father-in-law, emphasized that family members want to thank the public for its support, and for its continuing support and prayers for everyone involved -- including the shooter.

Rogers still misses her brother's goofiness.

"I know my brother," she said. "He wouldn't want any of us to be sad. He'd want us to celebrate his life."

email: gwarner@buffnews.com