CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston was shaken when a gunman opened fire inside Emanuel AME Church five years ago.
Chaplain Rob Dewey responded to the scene ten minutes after those shots were fired and the shooter was still on the loose when he arrived. He spoke about the hours that followed.
The mother of AME churches was left bleeding in June 17, 2015.
“It was like something I’ve never seen before,” said Chaplain Dewey.
In his 28 years with Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, Dewey saw just about everything – or so he thought.
“I knew there had been a shooting in the church. We had no idea what would happen the next two hours, that we would be told that 9 of the parishioners studying the Bible were killed. Had no clue that was going to happen.”
His chaplaincy brought him to scenes of homicides, suicides, the Sofa Super Store Fire and the killing of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer.
A community already on edge after an unarmed black man was shot, was attacked by another act of evil just two months later.
“To go to a church and know that Wednesday night Bible studies happen all the time, that this was the result of this Wednesday Bible study.”
Reverend Dewey met with family members of the victims where they gathered at a nearby hotel following the shooting.
The Family Assistance Center, which was located at the Embassy Suites, was in operation for about 12 hours. Nearly 500 family members and relatives were there. Dewey recalls everyone saying a prayer and singing, “what a friend we have in Jesus”.
“That night was a process of emotions because we didn’t know what was taking place. We knew that we had a couple of people who had been killed, a couple of people who had been taken to the hospital… little did we know that the total number would be nine.”
Memories are still raw from the scene. “All the streets were blocked off,” he recalled. “It looked like Armageddon.”
As we remember the lives lost, and the families affected, Dewey’s advice is to go forward in faith.
“It doesn’t matter the race, or color of your skin. Just go in humbleness and servanthood with God’s heart and be there for his people.”
And find keyways to improve.
“We’re still one of the greatest cities around… but I think a learning point would be that we can always do better. So, that’s the challenge right now.”