New details emerge about how the Charleston shooting unfolded
CHARLESTON, S.C. — When Dylann Roof walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, he immediately asked for the pastor.
He was greeted by the deep baritone of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, known simply as Clem by his friends and congregation. A man so steeped in faith, Pinckney was called into the ministry in his teens. He served as pastor for the last 23 years and a South Carolina legislator for 19.
It wasn’t unusual for a stranger to stroll into the church. Summertime brings tourists by the thousands to historic downtown Charleston. Many stop in to catch a glimpse of history inside the oldest black church in the South. The church is known as “Mother Emanuel” in Charleston.
As the nation grappled with the carnage of Wednesday’s massacre, relatives of victims — as well as church members who spoke with survivors — told CNN how the shooting unfolded:
Pinckney brought Roof into his Bible study shortly after 8 p.m.
“Being the nice, kind welcoming person he is, Clementa welcomed him to his congregation,” said Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the pastor.
Wednesdays at the church are a time of thoughtful reflection and a time to catch up with friends. Casserole dishes are served up with smiles at Wednesday night supper before talk turns to God.
If Roof had arrived earlier, the church would’ve been packed. Dozens of people had attended a church session in the hour before. That’s around when Tywanza Sanders, 26, posted a quote from Jackie Robinson on his Instagram account: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Sanders was at the Bible study with his pastor and about a dozen others, including Sanders’ mother and his great aunt, 87-year-old Susie Jackson. The family matriarch, Jackson loved everything about the church, living just a few blocks away and singing in its choir for decades.
Roof took up a seat next to Pinckney.
He sat there for about an hour. They prayed together. They talked about Scripture.
The group could never have known what was in his mind. The scowl on his face in his Facebook profile photo. His dark eyes snarling, above patches on his jacket of the South African and Rhodesian flags representing white supremacy.
The worshipers couldn’t have known his plan. He was there to start a race war. He was there with the intent to kill them. Because they were black.
What words congregants may have been exchanged with their visitor during the Bible study remains unknown. But it is clear he was surrounded by love.
And that’s why what happened next is so haunting. So disturbing. That he could spend time to meet his victims — and still carry through with his plan to commit mass murder. According to WBRC, Roof had second thoughts but decided to go through with the massacre because no one else was going to do it.
“After joining them for some period of time, he obviously became very aggressive and violent,” Johnson said.
He pulled out his handgun — .45-caliber shell casings were later found at the scene — that had been hidden behind a fanny pack around his waist, and he opened fire. It is believed he shot Pinckney first.
Tywanza Sanders leapt up, concerned about the pastor. He pleaded with Roof. Said he didn’t have to do this. Tried to talk him down.
Roof disagreed. “No, you’ve raped our women and you are taking over the country. I have to do what I have to do,” he said, according to Johnson, who was quoting a survivor.
He then pointed his gun at the oldest person in the room, Susie Jackson. Sanders tried to shield his great aunt from the volley of bullets. Both were killed.
“He was trying to protect his aunt. That’s him 100%,” family friend A.J. Harley said.
Sanders’ mother, Felecia, pretended to be dead.
“She watched her son fall,” Johnson said. “She laid there in his blood.”
Survivors have told friends Roof reloaded his gun at least five times. He told one woman that he would spare her so she could tell the world what happened and that he planned to kill himself.
When the shooting was done, nine were dead — one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Each victim was shot multiple times.
Before Roof left the church, he stood over one of the victims and “uttered a racially inflammatory statement,” according to his arrest warrant.
“It is devastating that somebody would go into God’s house and commit such a crime,” said Kent Williams, a cousin of the pastor.
At 26, Tywanza Sanders was the youngest victim. His great aunt was the oldest.
Pinckney, a father of two girls and stalwart of the black community, was 41. “He had this deep voice that everybody wished they had. When he spoke, he commanded your attention. He always had words of wisdom,” Williams said. “We’re just gonna miss him.”
The other six victims were:
Cynthia Hurd, 54, who worked at the Charleston County Public Library for 31 years. She took delight in helping residents, young and old, learn to read. The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, the “enthusiastic leader” and admissions coordinator at the Charleston learning center of Southern Wesleyan University. Ethel Lance, 70, who was a city worker for 34 years and devoted much of that time working backstage at the Galliard Auditorium. The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, a speech coach and track coach at Goose Creek High School. Myra Thompson, 59, a Bible study teacher who dedicated her life to God. The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a church staff member and former pastor of Friendship AME Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
The bloodshed has shaken Charleston — and the nation. In the words of Williams: “It says to the world that we’re not safe anywhere anymore. … It is despicable.”
The 21-year-old Roof appeared before a judge Friday through a remote video feed, showing no emotion in a striped prison jumpsuit. He is charged with nine counts of murder.
If his plan was to start a race war, Roof was met by an amazing level of forgiveness.
“You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance said.
Felecia Sanders — the mother who saw her son die Wednesday night — recalled how she and the others welcomed Roof into the Bible study.
“We enjoyed you,” she told the court. “But may God have mercy on you.”