CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – It has been six years since nine people were shot and killed at a historic church in downtown Charleston.
On the night of June 17, 2015, worshippers were attending Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Church – it was just after 8:00 p.m. when the shooter walked into the church and sat with church members for about an hour before he pulled out a gun and shot nine innocent people.
Six women and three men killed that night. State Senator Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, and Myra Thompson.
Five people also in the church that night survived the shooting – Rev. Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer and their daughters, Felicia Sanders and her 5-year-old granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard.
An act of hate was drowned out with the ultimate act of forgiveness. People will never forget how the families of the victims forgave the gunman in bond court after his arrest.
“You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. Have mercy on your soul. It hurt me, it hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”
But family members say they still want to see more change within the community.
“You won’t be able to do it on your own strength and your own help. You’re going to have to rely on the Lord,” said Rev. Anthony Thompson, who lost his wife, Myra, in the shooting. “You gotta call on him and ask him to help you forgive. Because it was hard. I have peace now, and that peace is still with me today. So, that’s what is carrying me on, that is what is enabling me to move forward in my life right now.”
Chris Singleton, who lost his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, has been working to teach about love and forgiveness in the six years since her death. “I definitely think there is work still to be done. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of division over the past couple of years. Even back to when my mom was taken away,” he said. “So, the work that I do is to unite people.”
“We’re not just a race of people of different color, we are people. We are one humanity,” said Rev. Thompson.
Several events are taking place virtually this week to mark the 6th anniversary. Mother Emanuel on Thursday will host a virtual forgiveness forum from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.
Church officials say their goal is to teach others about love, forgiveness, and social justice.