CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – June 17th marks five years since nine people were killed during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston.
Five people survived the shooting in what is now known as the Charleston Church Shooting.
The victims and survivors gathered for a Wednesday night Bible study. They welcomed a young man, later identified as the shooter, for fellowship and prayer before he would pull out a gun and open fire.
Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson were all killed in the massacre.
Five others survived the shooting and were left unharmed, including Felecia Sanders, the mother of Tywanza Sanders, and her 5-year-old granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard. Jennifer Pinckney, the wife of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and their daughter, 6-year-old Malana, were in another room across the hall at the time of the shooting.
A manhunt for the suspect, Dylann Roof, followed in the hours after the shooting. Dozens of law enforcement officers searched the peninsula and surrounding areas as mourners gathered outside the historic church to offer prayer, support and songs of hope.
“This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy,” said then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley as he spoke to the media and community in the hours after the shooting.
The investigation reached well into the early morning hours when more details about the shooting suspect were released.
A woman in North Carolina would later alert her employer that she believed she saw the suspect after seeing information about his vehicle on the news.
“I got closer and saw that haircut. I was nervous. I had the worst feeling. Is that him or not him,” she said in an interview later. She then followed him until authorities could arrive.
The suspect was captured at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina. He was flown back to the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston.
Roof later appeared in bond court via videoconference on June 19th, where shooting survivors and relatives of five of the victims spoke to him and forgave him.
He was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.
In the days after the shooting, Charlestonians came together in unity and prayer across the City of Charleston. They gathered in Marion Square, left flowers and notes of prayer outside the church, and marched hand-in-hand on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge.
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said one of his proudest memories from his 40-years as the city’s leader is how Charleston responded to the tragedy.
“The way the community responded to this most unspeakable act was beyond anything, and I’m a positive minded person, that I could ever have imagined. People, the morning after, right there on Calhoun Street, white people and black people together, hugging each other, wiping away each other’s tears,” he said.
A memorial for the Emanuel 9 is now in the works at the church. It includes two large fellowship benches that face each other, an opening between those benches invites people in, and a marble fountain will be inscribed with the names of the nine victims of the shooting.