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Binghamton Mourns 13 Killed In Shooting Rampage

ARI SHAPIRO, Host:

The gunman who opened fire in Binghamton, New York, on Friday targeted a place that teaches English to immigrants, helps them find jobs, and prepares them for citizenship exams. As Brian Mann reports, the shooting inflicted trauma on a community that was already struggling through a tough economy.

BRIAN MANN: On a brilliant Palm Sunday morning, the bell ringer at the First Congregational Church steps forward and uses the weight of his entire body to swing the massive bell 13 times for the people killed, and then once more for the shooter who took his own life.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

MANN: From where he stands in front of the church, Tom Bucker can see the American Civic Center just two doors down. That's where Jiverly Wong, a 41- year-old Vietnamese-American, opened fire on Friday morning.

MANN: How sad. How ironic that someone like this could happen in a place that's helping these immigrants. It's just a very sad time for our community.

MANN: As the bells fade and the television trucks and reporters begin to move on, Binghamton's mayor, Matt Ryan, says he's still struggling to grasp what happened here.

MANN: Today is the beginning, I think, of a long healing process. But again, I'd like just to focus on how strong this community is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

MANN: Inside, the congregation sings of forgiveness and redemption and hope, but Reverend Arthur Suggs says the community has to go beyond words.

SHAPIRO: To say words, you know, isn't this too bad? We need to change our culture of violence in this county. Those kind of words are cheap. Actions count a lot deeper and more importantly than the words.

MANN: Suggs says there's a lot to be done: helping poor people during this recession, curbing gun violence. He urges members of his congregation to step forward and share their thoughts. Debbie Miller, who grew up in this city and sings in the church choir, says Binghamton is being tested.

MANN: Things like this either make or break a community, though. We either break apart and all go our separate ways and isolate, or we come together and we work together, and we work for love.

MANN: These were tough times in Binghamton before Friday's shooting. Unemployment here now tops 9 percent. Reverend Lien Do(ph), who heads the Vietnamese Baptist church, says many of the families who lost loved ones were already struggling.

SHAPIRO: Immigrants who come here to this country in this economy, they - very hard time.

MANN: Angela Leach, head of the American Civic Association, where the shooting took place, said her group will try to help with that effort.

MANN: We will come out of our grief and sadness more resolute in our mission and more dedicated than ever to help people realize the dream of American citizenship.

MANN: Local leaders say a top priority will be building better ties to Binghamton's working class, immigrant communities. Language barriers and the lack of established relationships complicated the efforts to identify the victims and help families.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROUP SINGING)

MANN: Brian Mann, NPR News, in Binghamton, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.