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Gathering in grief, determination; Word of the death of a shooting victim deepens the emotions at MLK Park

City leaders who organized a picnic Wednesday afternoon in Martin Luther King Park aimed to show the community that the park remains safe despite the shooting of five people in a shelter there Saturday night.

It turned out to be a mixed message for many, who learned as they arrived that one of the shooting victims had died only hours earlier.

"I've had a lot of sleepless nights since Saturday's violence," Mayor Byron W. Brown told the more than 200 who gathered.

The mayor was hardly alone.

Friends and families of a dozen victims have tried to pick up the pieces after violent gunfire during the last five days, as Buffalo police officers have scrambled round-the-clock to track down the shooters.

Two of the victims have died: Marquay Lee, 26, one of five picnickers shot by a gunman at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Shelter No. 4 in the city park named for a slain civil rights icon; and Samantha Cothran, 23, a Nardin Academy and Fisk University graduate studying at D'Youville College to become a pharmacist, who was shot dead outside a party early Sunday in the Kensington-Bailey section of the city.

Lee died Tuesday night. Those who attended Wednesday's Peace in the Park gathering mourned him, and many of them hugged his parents, Nina Baskin and Otis Lee, who were among those gathered.

"Saturday's violence has made all of us members of the families of the victims," said Marilyn Bibbs, a member of True Bethel Baptist Church, whose pastor, the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, had called for the picnic, along with Common Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith of the Masten District.

It was held in the same spot where Lee and four others were shot Saturday night. Still recovering from their wounds are Edmond Carter, 28; Aron Rose, 20; Shaneta Payne, 27; and Jahond Taylor, 23.

At about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, Cothran was killed and Joshua Parker, 22, was wounded outside a graduation party on Minnesota Avenue.

Police also are investigating other shootings since Saturday night, as well:

Two men were shot during drive-by incidents at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday on Brinkman Avenue.

Two men suffered minor wounds when they were shot at about 8 p.m. Tuesday in the 100 block of Oakmont Avenue.

Javon Webster, 19, was shot early Wednesday on Gatchell Street near Pullman Place. He was treated in Erie County Medical Center and later released, police said.

"The turnout today shows the community is strong and is not going to put up with such acts of violence without acting to save their community," the mayor told those gathered at Shelter No. 4.

Brown said Buffalo police detectives and uniformed investigators "are making progress" toward finding suspects in the shootings and encouraged those with information to call the police anonymous tip line at 847-2255.

Pridgen, who is Ellicott Council member as well as pastor of True Bethel, stressed to the crowd that "people should not be afraid of one knucklehead [responsible for the park shootings] because he's going to get caught, and if he's smart, he will turn himself in."

The pastor danced with the crowd and played jump-rope with several children while their parents enjoyed food at the park rally.

"It's all about bringing back the park to the community," Pridgen said. "These are people who are not afraid."

Sister Wanda Strong Thompson Howard is president and founder of the 10-year-old Prayer in the Park Ministry and Outreach Organization, which meets at the statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. every Saturday morning. She said this weekend's event will be held in memory of Lee.

Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who lives with his wife a few blocks from the park, has been a frequent visitor since he was a young child.

"This is my neighborhood, too," he said, "and all these people are here today to prove it is safe to come to this park."

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who also attended, said what was also on the mind of many others on hand.

"We're all going to stand up," he said, "and take our community back."