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Pastor And Eight Parishioners Target Of Deranged Racist
6/18/2015 1:32:41 PM

Mourners bowing their heads after deadly shootings at Mother Emanuel June 17. Photo by Joel Woodhall
By Barney Blakeney

Disbelief in the face of reality is how many in Charleston, often referred to as the ‘Holy City’, awoke in the aftermath of perhaps the most heinous mass murder in its history. Charleston police suspect 21-year-old Dylann Roof calmly walked into Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, joined a group of parishioners having Bible study and one hour later executed nine of them including their Pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

After a 14-hour manhunt, Roof was apprehended without resistance in Shelby, N. C. The tragedy began about 9 p.m. June 17 after members of the church gathered for their weekly Bible study class. Pinckney, who is a S.C. State Senator, earlier in the day had returned from the state’s capitol where legislators held a special session. He attended an afternoon meeting at the church and had stayed for the Bible study class.

At about 9:05 p.m. 911 dispatchers received a call telling them shots had been fired in the church and that several people were dead. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said when his officers arrived minutes later they found a chaotic scene and eight gunshot victims who were dead. One victim, still alive, was transported to a local hospital where the victim died. Mullen said there were three survivors. Two were unharmed. Six of the fatalities were females, three were males.

Mullen called the murders a hate crime. Roof is white. All the victims are Black. Emanuel AME Church is one of the nation’s oldest Black churches and the oldest south of Baltimore, Md. The congregation was founded in 1816. According to authorities, Roof joined the Bible study class for about an hour before shooting his victims. Unconfirmed accounts indicate Roof, who authorities say is from Lexington, may have targeted the church. Police officials would not release many details of the shooting.

Mullen during a press conference about two hours after the incident was reported, said he had no doubt the murders were a hate crime. “This is the worse night of my career,” he said.

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley described the crime as inexplicable, unfathomable and an unspeakable act. According to one unconfirmed account, the victims pleaded for their lives before they were executed and Roof left a witness to later “tell the story”.

Throughout the night as the victims’ family members were told of the fate of their loved ones at a hotel across the street from the church, groups near the scene held prayer circles while some individuals simply kneeled to pray in solitude. About midnight police moved the crowd that had gathered and the media, further away after receiving a bomb threat which was found to be baseless.

At 6 a.m. police released camera images of the suspect they later identified as Roof, and the vehicle they suspected he was driving. Mullen said local, state, regional and federal resources were being marshalled to make an arrest.

Visibly shaken, he said every resource and effort was being made to make a speedy arrest in the indescribable tragedy that caused pain and hurt to the entire community. He called on the media and community to also use social media to put the word out. A citizen in Shelby spotted Roof’s car and alerted local police to Roof’s whereabouts Thursday morning.

Though many in the local community responded to the murders with anger, some like Rico Shivers urge compassion. “We understand he’s sick,” Shivers said during a brief interview. Riley also said the murders were an unspeakable act committed by somebody with a deranged mind. To have a person go into a church and kill people praying is incomprehensible, he said.

Rev. Thomas Ravenell, pastor of Empowerment Baptist Church in North Charleston said until America realistically addresses issues of race, similar tragedies will occur.

“There’s no doubt in my mind this was an incident of racism,”?Ravenell said. He and other local Black ministers say Black congregations should be on alert especially during night services, meetings and choir practices.“

This is the worse thing that’s ever happened in our history,” he said. “Worse than the Birmingham bombing and Tamir Rice. Our kids can’t play, we can’t wear hoodies and now, we can’t pray in church.”

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