Jennifer Pinckney recalls the night of the Charleston Church Shooting

Remembering Mother Emanuel

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Five years have passed, but the memories of the tragedy that unfolded the night of June 17th, 2015, remain vivid for Mrs. Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of late State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  

In a one-on-one interview with Count on 2’s Octavia Mitchell, Mrs. Pinckney shared her memory of that horrific night as she continues to work to raise her daughters and honor her husband’s legacy.

Pinckney, a school librarian, is now raising her two daughters alone after the tragic death of her best friend and love of her life. “The last thing he said, he said I love you darling, and he walked on into the Bible study,” says Pinckney. “I take it one day at a time. I still have my good days and I have my bad days. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Clementa, and I don’t think about that night and what happened.”

Five years ago, her husband State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel AME Church and eight church members were murdered during Bible study.  

Mrs. Pinckney and her youngest daughter were in her husband’s office when the gunman opened fire.  

She said, “Malana and I were in the room. She was watching TV and eating snacks, and I was working. Later on, we started hearing the gunshots, and I snatched my baby up, I locked the door, snatched my baby up, and I went into the secretary’s office and shoved her under the desk. I immediately didn’t get under the desk with her.  I was going to try to seek help. I was like ‘tell your sister I love you, and grandma, and everyone, but I’ve got to get help.'”

She went on to say, “When the gunshots were at a distance, told her don’t move, stay where you are. She said ok. Shortly after, a bullet came flying through the office we were in, and I leaped in underneath there with her, and that’s where we stayed the entire time. We heard the gunshots. We heard the moaning and so forth, and we heard so many different sounds. Malana asked me if her father was going to die, and I immediately said we have to be quiet. We stayed under there until we heard him leave. We heard Dylann Roof leave, and I crawled from under the desk and found my cell phone and I called 911.”

The unthinkable tragedy remains a constant thought. “It is difficult. It is hard. I think about how it could have been so different had Dylann heard us in that room. I come up with different scenarios.  I wish Clementa could be here right now, but I know his death is not in vain. I have to continue to keep pushing forward, just have to be strong.  I’m strong for my girls,” she said.

The couple met in college.  She attended the University of South Carolina while he attended Allen University.  This year, they would have celebrated their 21st anniversary.

Mrs. Pinckney says, “When I look at my girls, I see their father. One acts like their father, and one looks like their father. He was such a people person. He was a loving man. He was a caring man. He didn’t see differences. He didn’t believe in titles.  He was always trying to help, but the main thing that people don’t know, he was fun.”

Her husband’s belongings remain visible in their home. “His things are right there. Eventually, I will move it but right now, I’m good. It’s still tough for me. I have to put my trust and faith in God and God will take care of me. God will take care of the girls. We will go from there.”

Other widows have told her she has been a pillar of strength for them during their personal loss.

“I don’t consider myself as this big role model out there for everyone.  If I can touch someone in a positive way to be similar to what Clementa did, he touched people in a positive way.  I was the wind beneath his wings kind of thing.  He was definitely that for me, but I was behind the scenes, and he was out there in public.  It’s like now I’m kind of out there, and even though he’s not here physically, he’s still the wind beneath my wings,” said Pinckney.

Her work continues to honor her husband’s legacy.  “For him, and his memory and my girls and the strength they have, you got to keep on keeping on, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Mrs. Pinckney continues to work to help others through the Pinckney Foundation, which was created to honor her husband’s memory.  

For more information about the foundation, or to make a donation, go to pinckneyfoundation.org .

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