CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley reflected on the night nine Charlestonians were killed in a racially charged attack at historic Emanuel AME Church.
Five years later, Mayor Riley said one if his proudest moments was the way the people of Charleston responded to the church shooting.
“It’s forever seared in my memory…”
When Mayor Riley received the phone call about the shooting at Mother Emanuel, “I didn’t know what I was going to see there, but I knew for that church that I should be respectful. I also knew at that moment that everything I did had to be perfect.”
As more information came in, Mayor Riley learned his friend, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, was one of the victims of the senseless shooting.
Soon after, he wrote down ‘unspeakable act’ in his notebook. He knew it was a hate crime and soon had to gather with then-police chief Greg Mullen to tell family members and the community what happened.
“At that moment, those people in that room knew that their loved one that had been at the Bible study had been killed. If I live a long time – an even longer time – the sound of that moment as every human expresses a feeling of distraught and heartbreak and sadness, they are all different sounds – that tragic moment filled that room. Weeping and wailing, moaning and heartbreak.”
After the violence, the shock, and tears, came the response and it was a message of forgiveness.
“the way the community responded to this most unspeakable act was beyond anything – and I’m a positive minded person – than I could have ever imagined,” he said.
“I will never be able to hold her again,” said one family member during Roof’s bond hearing days later. “But I forgive you.”
“That was the most sublime human action after the most hurtful experience – you hated, you killed the hated, they don’t hate. I think that was a message that is timeless and universal.”
In the five years since the tragedy at Mother Emanuel, much has changed, but a lot has not. And in Mayor Riley’s mind, so much can be learned by remembering what happened that night and knowing we can do more together than apart.
“The way that the citizens came together in love and support after the unspeakable act at Mother Emanuel, I think, is one of the community’s greatest moments.”
Mayor Riley said he looks forward to the day the memorial at Mother Emanuel is completed, saying we can’t let this moment disappear.