CHARLESTON CHURCH FILLED WITH SIGNS OF GOOD AND EVIL
By Clemon Richardson
Urban News Service
CHARLESTON, South Carolina – The whole world was watching as a multiracial crowd packed the re-opened church and grieved with its parishioners.
The Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff Sr., Presiding Elder of Emanuel AME Church, last Sunday discarded the program he had planned for Father’s Day. Instead, he officiated from the pulpit and welcomed several ministers in attendance to join him before the congregation.
“Many of us are still trying to seek answers to what happened last Wednesday,” Goff said in his sermon. “Well, I been there, done that, spent the night. And I decided to turn it over to Jesus.
“‘Preacher, are you saying we should forget what has happened?’” Goff asked rhetorically. “No, don’t forget. But remember the God who created us all, the God who will make a way out of no way. There are answers we are still waiting for. But we will find those answers by leaving our hands in the hands of God.”
Tributes continued to pour into Mother Emanuel on Monday.
Church officials said they already had received more than a thousand e-mails from around the world and as many telephone calls.
Numerous callers — men and women— cried shamelessly into their phones, according to a volunteer who spoke with these well-wishers.
“One lady read a nice poem she had written and wanted to send copies to the families,” she said.
A woman from Sierra Leone, west Africa, called and said that she and members of her Kono tribe wanted to donate money to Mother Emanuel.
Others pledged generously: Boeing Corp, which has a local airline assembly plant, contributed $100,000.
The mailman delivered several overstuffed bags of envelopes and told staffers he had several more. Inside, volunteers found gifts including quilts, knit blankets, bracelets, and crosses in alabaster boxes for each surviving family. In Matthew 26:7, a woman washed Jesus’s head with oil from an alabaster box.
A doctor, who requested anonymity, pledged to establish an educational trust fund so that slain Emanuel Pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s young children would “never have to worry about their education.”
Nine Charleston Bar Association members volunteered to provide free estate planning for surviving families.
A Virginia security firm called to give the church a camera system to replace the one that police confiscated in their investigation. They were too late; a local firm donated and installed a state-of-the-art system earlier on Monday. It covers every door, window, and the parking lot.
Church officials said earlier that a flaw in the old security camera system could have made alleged mass murderer Dylann Storm Roof much harder to identify. There was no camera covering the Calhoun Street entrance off the meeting room.
If Roof had come and gone that way and parked down the street, the only video of him would have been the grainy image of him sitting at the table with prayer circle members that police found on the cell phone of the slain Tywanza Sanders. Instead, Roof entered through a door that was covered by a camera. Police released the image it captured, which helped speed his arrest.
Police remained closemouthed about the details of Roof’s attack. But in the days since the shootings that killed nine people during Wednesday night’s Bible study, survivors have shared chilling details with their families and friends about Roof’s murderous rampage. While their recollections could not be verified independently, many of these memories are disturbing.
After sitting with the prayer group for more than an hour, witnesses say, Roof stood up, put his gun to a woman’s head and declared that he would “kill some niggers tonight,” but the woman would be spared to explain what happened.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney was shot first, felled by a single bullet as he lunged at the gunman. Sanders was the next to die.
Pinckney’s wife, Mother Emanuel First Lady Jennifer Pinckney, was in her husband’s office, just feet from the table where the prayer circle was meeting, when the first shots rang out. Hearing the gun fire, she and her child hid under a four-seat, circular table in Pinckney’s office. They were saved because Roof kicked the door so hard that it jammed against the door frame and blocked his deadly path.
One woman survived by falling on the floor and pushing her nearby toddler nephew beneath her body. She told him to play dead.
The oldest man in the room proved to be Roof’s most elusive prey.
The Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, 74, was found, still alive, near the back door, some 20 feet from where the shooting started and through which Roof exited to the church parking lot. The Vietnam War veteran, Purple Heart winner, and retired pastor died in surgery at the nearby Medical University of South Carolina, one of the Palmetto State’s premier hospitals.
As part of their probe, police cut small squares in the meeting room’s old fashioned, brown, wood-paneled walls to extract the bullets to be used later as evidence.
Judging from the pattern of these squares and where Rev. Simmons was found, Roof fired several shots at Simmons as he fled, finally catching up with him at the back door.
The numerous cut-outs around the room and depressions in the floor confirm the ferocity of Roof’s attack. One pillar featured three unevenly spaced square cut-outs. And the white tile floor was pitted with dark depressions that long supported the legs of the table where the killer and his victims had gathered to pray.