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Widow devastated by City Grill shooting dedicates life to helping others

When Tanisha Mackin finally allowed herself to be lifted from the body of her husband on the bloodstained street outside the City Grill, she knew that the life she loved was over.

What she didn’t know, in her shock and grief, was that a new life awaited her. And it would be a life filled with challenges and opportunity, as well as joy tinged with sorrow.

She is the widow of Danyell Mackin, one of the people killed in the mass shooting outside the City Grill on Aug. 14, 2010.

Mackin is back in Buffalo Saturday to launch her fifth book, “My Testimony: I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Through.”

In addition, her 11-year-old son Danyell Mackin Jr. also has his first book, “Fatherless Son.” It is available in hardcover, paperback or as a coloring book.

“She is just an extraordinary woman,” said the Rev. George C. Woodruff of Durham Memorial AME Zion Church on East Eagle Street, where the Mackins will sign books in an event beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday. “She has turned tragedy into triumph.”

Could she ever have imagined her new path as a bereavement counselor, inspirational speaker and published author?

“Not before my husband passed, no,” Mackin said. “You just never know. I stress to everybody, enjoy life, because you never know.”

Tanisha Stephens met Danyell Mackin in their neighborhood around Broadway and Paderewski when they were children.

“We had known each other since we were kids, so it was more than a husband I lost, he was a good friend,” she said. “I met my husband when we were my son’s age, and he looks just like my husband when we were kids.”

The two became a couple around 2000. After the birth of their son, they moved to Austin, Texas, in 2006, married in 2009, and welcomed their second child, Destinee, in January 2010.

The first bump in the road came in March 2010, when Tanisha Mackin was diagnosed with colon cancer.

She had surgery and was still having chemotherapy treatments when the two returned to Buffalo in August to celebrate their first wedding anniversary and have Destinee christened.

Their get-togethers with family and friends included a visit to the City Grill. After a disturbance among other patrons resulted in staffers closing the establishment, Riccardo M. McCray fired into the crowd leaving the bar, killing four and wounding four more.

The Mackins left the City Grill together, and she escaped the gunfire by running back to the door.

“I was the last person to make it back inside,” she said.

When the shooting stopped, Mackin ran out and found her husband on the street. She held him as he took his final breath, then clung to him despite attempts to pull her away. Finally, friends helped her away.

In the following days, she was in shock. Mackin and her children returned to Austin for a few months before moving to Georgia to be closer to family, whose support has been vital.

In March of 2011, she was the first witness to take the stand in the murder trial of McCray, who was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree attempted murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

“I am so grateful for what everybody did, the judge and the DA,” Mackin said. “They worked hard on this case and I appreciate everything they did, but the outcome is still the same. If he was sentenced and that brought my husband and other three back, I would be, ‘Yes!’ But I feel like OK, he’s behind bars, but it’s not bringing them back.”

Mackin, who was 31 when she was widowed, called the next few months “a lost place in my life.” During that time, she said, “I was actually going to bookstores trying to find material on how to be a widow. I didn’t understand it, and I was lost. With the limited resources, there wasn’t a lot out there. Then one of my good girlfriends said, ‘You’ve been through so much, you just need to write your story.’ ”

That made sense to the woman who had always enjoyed writing, especially keeping a journal.

“As I wrote the first book, I was actually doing a little bit of healing, replaying little memories we had and smiling,” she said. “I realized that it was helping a lot.”

She returned to Buffalo in November of 2011 to launch “Still Standing.”

“People were coming up to me and telling me I was their hero," she said. “I was humbled, because I didn’t understand how I was helping other people, but I loved that I was able to help other people. It gave me my fuel, basically. I had to continue this journey that I was on, to show people that yes, you can go through anything, you can come out of it.”

Like the workbook for her “Words From a Widow” book, her son Danyell’s book, “Fatherless Son,” contains pages for the reader to fill with his or her own thoughts. The coloring book for younger children encourages readers to interact with the images and concepts of the book.

With the help of her father, Dale Stephens, Mackin also founded in 2011 the Mackin Project, a registered nonprofit that helps families who have lost loved ones to violence.

A percentage of the profits from her book sales go to the Mackin project, which provides bereavement coaching, encouragement and burial assistance to survivors.

“She has really taken this tragedy and has turned it into something that helps others deal with sudden death and death in general,” Woodruff said. “She has taken a negative and turned it into a positive.”

Saturday’s event begins at 3 p.m. with book sales and a book signing in Durham Memorial Outreach Center, 200 E. Eagle St. “My Testimony” is $16; “Fatherless Son” is $20 in hardcover, $16 in paperback, and $10 for the coloring book.

At 4:30 p.m. sales and signings will be suspended for 45 minutes while those present share a candlelight prayer for those who were lost five years ago, followed by a shared meal.

“Anyone is welcome to join us for the food and the prayer – we have opened it up to the community,” Mackin said.

“When the five-year anniversary comes, I’m not going to be in Buffalo, so I decided to do something while we are there just to pay homage to the people that we lost,” Mackin said. “I talked to a couple of the families, and they say they may come – it depends on how they feel, which I understand, because it is hard on everyone. If they do come out, I’ll be so grateful. We became close afterward.”

Today, her life is a balance between her accomplishments and the grief that led her there. At the base, Mackin said, “I’m happy, although I still have my moments. Mainly, watching my children grow, I think, ‘Your father would be so proud of you.’ ”