CLEMSON, SC (WSPA) – Wednesday marked five years since the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Nine parishioners were killed during a Bible study on June 17, 2015.
The accused killer, Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, remains in prison and faces the death penalty.
7 News sat down for an one-on-one conversation with former Charleston Chief of Police Greg Mullen, who is now Clemson University’s Police Chief and Associate Vice-President of Public Safety.
Mullen told us the massacre changed his life forever.
“It was the most horrific night that I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he said. “It was a tragedy that you can’t explain.”
Mullen said he still gets emotional remembering the night he got the call.
“To get that call, it’s one that you never want to get, and you know it’s going to rip the heart right out of the community,” he said. “It’s really unfathomable to see that kind of pain and hurt and suffering that occurred based on what one person decided to do. He was a racist, and had a lot of racist views, and thought that he was going to start a race war.”
Mullen said a turning point for him was when he went to the bond hearings and heard some of the family members of victims say they forgave Roof.
“To see the grace and the forgiveness, and the power that those family members had, it made you think, ‘If they can go through that, and they can respond in that way, then I’ve got to do my part,'” Mullen said. “I got to stand up and do what I can, to use this situation to strengthen our community, to learn more about other people.”
He said he’s channeling his hurt and the pain he feels for the victims, and using it to foster change.
“This was a defining moment for me. Mother Emanuel was a defining moment for me. It changed me personally,” Mullen said. “What goes though my mind almost everyday, what can I do to honor those nine people and their survivors, that really demonstrated to the world how you except such a horrible thing and turn it into good.”
“I do want to hear about what I can do to make change. And I’m going to do what I can inside my circle of influence, policy, procedures, trainings, those types of things…everything that we can, so that that kind of event never happens,” Mullen said.
“It hurts me to see the continuous sorrow that happens when you have a George Floyd who should not have died,” he said.
“We need to understand that America needs to be for all Americas, and I’m going to do everything I can and in my power to make sure that’s the message that I share, as loudly and as broadly as possible,” he added.
He said it shouldn’t stop with him, but everyone should use their lives to put an end to racism, social injustice and police brutality.
“I think that’s what everyone of those nine wonderful people that died in that church five years ago, that’s what they would want from us, and that’s what their legacy should be,” Mullen exclaimed.
Mullen told us he still speaks with some of the survivors today.