CHARLESTON — Founded in 1816, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or “Mother Emanuel” as it is known, has long been a safe haven and place of worship for Charleston’s African-American community.
Throughout its history, the church has been burned to the ground and destroyed by an earthquake — each time to be rebuilt by its members who see it as a sanctuary and a place of peace.
That peace was shattered last Wednesday night when a gunman opened fire and killed nine people, including Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney. Authorities have said it was a racially motivated hate crime.
Following an intensive manhunt, the gunman, identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof from Lexington, S.C., was arrested in Shelby, N.C., just after 11 a.m. Thursday.
Security cameras show Roof entering the church just after 8 p.m. July 17. An hour later, the first 911 calls were received. By then, eight people had been shot and killed. The ninth would be pronounced dead shortly afterwards at an area hospital.
Pinckney, who in addition to serving since 2001 as a member of the S.C. Senate from the 45th District, was also the pastor of the church. He was 41.
Also killed were the Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Dr. Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson.
The Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor was admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University’s Charleston learning center. SWU’s main campus is in Central, S.C.
SWU President Todd Voss was shocked to hear the news.
“Always a warm and enthusiastic leader, DePayne truly believed in the mission of SWU to help students achieve their potential by connecting faith with learning,” Voss said. “Our prayers go out to family and friends. This is a great loss for our students and the Charleston region.”
Doctor began work this past December at SWU’s Charleston learning center. She was an SWU alumna, having received her master’s in management from SWU in 1994.
Members of the political community in South Carolina, from the Piedmont and the Midlands to the Upstate, expressed shock and deep sadness when contacted. All of them had had some dealings with the Senator.
“I mourn the senseless act of violence in Charleston yesterday. Nine lives are to be remembered, including a colleague, public servant, husband, father and man of God, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney,” District 5 State Rep. Neal Collins said Thursday. “While all the facts are not evident yet, it does appear this act was racially motivated. I would ask we honor Sen. Pinckney as he believed we are all one and as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a statement about the shootings, saying that the nation’s sense of security and well-being has been “robbed and shaken.”
“Our prayers are with the families of the victims and the people of Charleston. We are all heartbroken by this tragedy,” he said. “To the families of the victims, please know that you are being prayed for and loved by so many in the community and across the nation. I pray that God will provide you healing in the coming days.”
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina’s 3rd District stated: “There are no words strong enough to describe the devastating crime that took place in Charleston last night. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, particularly the family of Senator Pinckney, a former colleague of mine and the pastor for the church that was attacked. I will always remember Senator Pinckney as a soft spoken gentleman who deeply cared for others.”
S.C. Rep. Walt McLeod, who hails from Newberry County, had known Pinckney since 1996, when they were both elected to the S.C. House of Representatives.
“We started off in the House together,” McLeod said. “He was actually the first member from those House members elected in 1996 to be elected into the Senate.”
McLeod said he did not get an opportunity to work with Pinckney during this year’s legislative session, instead only shared a handshake when they saw one another.
“His death is a real loss to his district, to the people of South Carolina and to the A.M.E. churches around the state,” McLeod said. “He was destined to be a bishop in that church, if not a rising political leader in this state.”
McLeod further said that the world was a better place because Pinckney walked among us.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” McLeod added. “My heart just goes out to the family of Senator Pinckney, his colleagues in the Senate, the members of his church and the General Assembly.”
S.C. Rep. MaryGail Douglas from District 41 in Fairfield County, said she knew Pinckney, and her interactions with him left a positive impression.
“The thing about Sen. Pinckney is that whenever I think about words about him, he has been very gracious to me,” Douglas said. “He just has such a gentle spirit.”
Douglas said she was distraught to learn of the Charleston church shooting.
“It just makes you sick whenever you think about what we’ve come to,” Douglas said.
S.C. House District 42 Rep. Mike Anthony described Pinckney as a respected member of the S.C. General Assembly and was certain Pinckney had demonstrated courage in the face of death.
“I’m horrified, it’s just unbelievable this could happen,” Anthony said. “Knowing Sen. Pinckney I know he had no fear. Not only did he represent his district, but he was the pastor of that church and I know he showed no fear. He was soft-spoken in the dealings I had with him. He was a communicator and people respected him. He didn’t speak much, but when he did people listened.”
S.C. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, whose district includes part of Union County, said in a statement released on behalf of the S.C. Senate Republican Caucus that “I and all of my colleagues in the Senate are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Senator Pinckney. He was a talented and well respected Senator who represented the people of his church, his community and his state with great character and a servant’s heart. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, Jennifer, Eliana and Malana, as well as the other victims’ families.”
Ann Stevens, chairman of the Union County Democratic Party, described the situation as tragic and recalled how in her visits to Emanuel AME Church the congregation there had always made her feel welcome.
“I woke up to the news like everybody has and it has been a tragic, tragic event,” Stevens said. “We as AME Zion worship as a church family and we worshipped with them when we had our conferences on the Charleston end. They always made their facilities available to us and were always welcoming.”
Stevens pointed out that she’d been at Trident Tech in Charleston on Wednesday, not far from the church, to attend a speech by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just hours before the shooting took place.
“Everybody just needs to come together in prayer,” Stevens said. “We need to pray for the healing of the sick minds that are out there in the nation as a whole.”