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Violence hits home for family of woman; After park shooting, a fatal gun incident

Merisha Cothran drove by Martin Luther King Park and noticed one of several victims of a shooting there Saturday evening.

She said a prayer.

Less than five hours later, Cothran would kneel on the sidewalk outside a Minnesota Avenue house beside the lifeless body of her 23-year-old sister, Samantha, imploring the young woman to get up so they could go home.

Samantha Cothran had been fatally shot while getting a breath of fresh air at a house party, where she had gone to continue celebrating her weekend birthday and the college graduation of a friend.

"There was so much blood coming out of her. I said, 'Samantha, wake up, just get up. Let's go home,' but she wouldn't," Merisha Cothran said.

Merisha; her other sister, Alexis; and other relatives talked about the park shooting during a belated party for Samantha's 23rd birthday Saturday evening in the safety of the family's home on Butler Avenue.

Monday, the two sisters wept in the living room of that home as they recalled their older sister, an academic star in the family who seemed destined for a great future as a pharmacist.

Samantha Cothran graduated last May with a degree in chemistry from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., where she attended on a full scholarship, and was attending D'Youville College for an advanced degree in pharmacology.

All of that abruptly ended at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday outside 659 Minnesota, where Samantha was killed and a young man, also at the party, was seriously wounded.

No arrests have been made in the Minnesota Avenue shooting or the unrelated shooting of five people in the park, police said Monday night.

Following up on Mayor Byron W. Brown's appeal Sunday for information on the shootings, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda made a personal appeal to the public late Monday, asking anyone who might know something to call the department's confidential tip line at 847-2255.

"They are tragic, senseless and cowardly acts," Derenda said. "We're working around-the-clock to bring these criminals to justice."

At Martin Luther King Park, an outing of family and friends to celebrate a birthday and to welcome home an acquaintance who had recently returned to Buffalo was happening when a gunman started shooting, according to police.

Marquayle Lee, 26, the most seriously wounded of the five in the East Side park, remained in critical condition Monday night in Erie County Medical Center. Also wounded were Edmond Carter, 28; Aron Rose, 20; Shaneta Payne, 27; and Jahond Taylor, 23.

Merisha Cothran said that during the party for Samantha on Saturday evening, she told of how she had driven past Martin Luther King Park and seen one of the shooting victims.

Alexis Cothran said she had been invited to the park for a barbecue Saturday and drove by after work, at about 8:15 p.m. A large crowd in the park frightened her away.

"Something told me not to go. There were just so many people. Maybe over 200," she said.

Hours later, as Samantha's birthday celebration on Butler wound down, she and several companions decided to head over to the Minnesota Avenue graduation party.

Alexis Cothran looked at old photographs of Samantha in the Butler Avenue home Monday afternoon and recalled warning Samantha last week to avoid going out to social gatherings because of the randomness of violence on the streets.

"I told her, 'You can't be going out. Bullets don't have names on them,' " Alexis said.

Samantha went to the party with Merisha, their brother Freddie; Samantha's boyfriend, Dwight Barlow; and Alisha Wirt, Samantha's best friend.

"Alisha and I decided we wanted to go home, and Samantha said she would walk us out. She wanted to get some air. It was so hot inside the house. I went to get the car. It was parked a couple blocks away, and I heard a gunshot, then four more. I drove down to the house and kept hoping to see my sister. People were running," Merisha Cothran said.

Outside the house, she saw Wirt.

"I saw Alisha crying in front of the house, and I followed her eyes and saw my sister's black and brown dress. She was on the sidewalk. I raced out of the car, and I tried over and over to wake my sister up," Merisha Cothran said, recounting the aftermath of the shooting.

Across the street, another young partygoer who had tried to flee the bullets collapsed in a driveway. He has been identified as Joshua Parker, 22, of Buffalo. Parker was in stable condition at ECMC on Monday night.

Alexis Cothran said she was told by witnesses that the shooter pulled up in a car and began firing at people standing outside the Minnesota Avenue house.

Betty Bosely, Samantha's maternal grandmother, blamed the shootings on street thugs who have no respect for life.

"Two get shot later and five earlier Saturday night," the 64-year-old woman said. "It's not the fault of the police, but the judges who keep letting these people back out on the streets after they spend a few months in jail. There should be no getting out of jail when they commit crimes like this. They aren't going to change."

Bosely speculated that the shooter knew exactly who he was looking for and simply did not care if innocent bystanders got in the way.

At the Minnesota Avenue house, Monday afternoon, a neighbor said several college students who had thrown the graduation party Saturday had moved out on Sunday.

A wake for Samantha is set for 7 to 9 p.m. Friday in the Lombardo Funeral Home, 102 Linwood Ave. A second wake is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in True Bethel Baptist Church, 907 E. Ferry St., where a funeral service will follow at 11 a.m.