One Year On, Charleston, S.C., Church Honors Shooting Victims

Jun 17, 2016
Originally published on June 18, 2016 7:46 am
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News of a mass shooting can be especially difficult to absorb if you've lost someone you love to gun violence. Emotions are raw today in Charleston, S.C. It was one year ago that nine black parishioners were murdered during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Survivors say Dylann Roof, a white man in his 20s, spent an hour alongside worshipers before opening fire. From South Carolina Public Radio, Alexandra Olgin begins this report from a memorial service at Charleston's TD Arena.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Still speaking from eternity - that's the phrase above the photographs at today's service. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley spoke about each of the Emanuel nine.


NIKKI HALEY: Cynthia Hurd has changed my life by one simple thing. Her life motto was to be kinder than necessary. We all can learn from Cynthia. We all can be kinder than necessary.

OLGIN: Hurd's brother, Melvin Graham, began mourning the day's anniversary earlier this week, on Sunday, when he learned of the mass shooting in Orlando.

MELVIN GRAHAM: Every time there's a newsflash of another murder, another massacre, another slaughter, I personally suffer because I go back to that moment in time.

OLGIN: Cynthia Graham Hurd was killed in the basement of the Emanuel AME Church. And every time her brother opens his Bible, he remembers her.

GRAHAM: That's my sister. She's the fourth child.

OLGIN: He points to a laminated bookmark with Hurd's picture on it. She was a librarian and died four days short of her 55th birthday. Graham is angry that the mass shootings continue a year after his sister's death. He's frustrated because a law that enabled alleged shooter Dylann Roof to get a gun without having completed a background check remains on the books.

GRAHAM: If Dylann Roof had to wait to get a gun, maybe nine people would still be alive. My sister would still be alive. I wouldn't be sitting in an office trying to determine, how many times was she shot? Well, we took seven bullets out of her.

OLGIN: At a recent prayer service inside the white stucco church, people file out of pews to join hands and pray in front of the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We ask everybody to try to stand and try to get a circle.

OLGIN: Shortly after, Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark stood in front of the pulpit.

BETTY DEAS CLARK: For the Scripture encourages us to stand on the promise that I will not fear what man can do unto me. It's all because of God's amazing grace.

OLGIN: Grace is what Nadine Collier, whose mother was killed, showed when she forgave the alleged shooter at a court hearing just days after the attack.


NADINE COLLIER: I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. You've hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you, and I forgive you.

OLGIN: That act of remarkable forgiveness inspired and motivated Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen.

GREG MULLEN: I want the community and the police officers to have a better understanding of what it's like to walk in each other's shoes.

OLGIN: The alleged shooter is scheduled to be tried in federal court in November. Graham supports the prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty. The self-described man of faith says Dylann Roof has shown no remorse and should face the consequences for his actions.

GRAHAM: At the moment before they put him to death, if he asks God for forgiveness, I'm sure, by faith, God will forgive him for his sins. His soul will be saved. He may be standing in heaven right next to my sister.

OLGIN: Weary from anger and wracked by grief, Graham pleads for the shootings to stop. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Olgin in Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.