Roof’s victims were united by tragedy _ and faith
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — They were mothers, fathers, friends and co-workers. They shared varied interests and circumstances, but each of them was a person of faith. The nine slain by Dylann Roof during a Wednesday night Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, have become affectionately known as the Emanuel 9. Here are their stories.
He first started preaching at age 13 and spent his youth recruiting others for the AME church. Pinckney, 41, found his flock at Emanuel, giving sermons on Sundays participating in Bible study on Wednesday nights.
Pinckney loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, date nights with his wife and above all, his daughters, Eliana and Malana.
He was always busy, spending three days a week for half the year serving in South Carolina’s state Senate. Even though colleagues described him as the “soul of the Senate” after his death, he kept a low profile, said his wife, Jennifer.
“He was the person I think that every mom would be happy that their daughter met and married,” she said. “I know that he loved me. And he knew how much that I loved him.”
Thompson, 59, seemed to know something would happen to her. A month before the shootings, daughter Denise Quarles says her mother talked about being confident she’d raised her children with strong morals that would serve them after her death. She also made it clear what she wanted for her funeral: Use red nail polish and don’t let the funeral home dye her hair gray or cake-on the makeup.
On the night of the shooting, Quarles said she woke suddenly after a dream about watching her mother drown and hearing a voice saying her mother was gone. Quarles picked up her phone, checked Facebook and learned of the shooting.
“I just feel like that was God who spoke to me,” she said. “That’s why I know where my mom is. She’s in heaven, with everybody else. She’s fine.”
Coleman-Singleton, 45, was a high school track coach. But the ministry was her true calling. She was able to relate to a room full of people like they were talking one-on-one.
“She wanted to teach you,” said best friend Rita Whidbee.
Coleman-Singleton’s daughter told jurors her mother would pray over her children before they went to sleep each night. Faith was a living, breathing part of their everyday lives.
“Before I went to her with all my problems, and now I go to God,” Cam’Ryne Singleton said.
She was new to Emanuel, but determined to make a difference.
Earlier in 2015, the 49-year-old woman had decided to become a member at Emanuel and began studying for the AME ministry. Part of her commitment included attending the church’s Wednesday night Bible study.
In court, Bethane Middleton described her sister as a tender woman who took care of her when they were children. She would share whatever food she had, never letting that she sometimes left hungry.
At Roof’s initial court appearance, Middleton expressed anger but said her sister espoused nothing but love.
“We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him,” she said.
Simmons, 74, was the son of a preacher. And he always knew he’d be a preacher himself.
Nicknamed “Dapper Dan” for his shiny shoes and fine hats, Simmons proudly preached at Emanuel’s special services, such as its annual baccalaureate program honoring the congregation’s high school graduates. He may not have been the world’s best singer, but Simmons proudly offered his voice to the Lord.
His son, Dan Simmons Jr., said his father adored his grandchildren and spoke with them often, always willing to travel wherever necessary to spend time with people he loved. One of the first black drivers hired by Greyhound, Simmons loved to drive, up until the day of his death, his son said.
“He just loved everything about life,” Simmons said.
Cynthia Hurd grew up going to Emanuel every Sunday with her siblings. Their mother sang in the choir. A smart, bookish woman, Hurd could be quiet and often read voraciously but felt at home at church, according to her brother, Malcolm Graham.
After the death of her parents, it was Hurd who stepped into that motherly role, Graham said, ensuring her siblings and others around her bettered themselves and got educated.
“She always was there and protected me and guided me and gave me the knowledge and the skills I needed to succeed,” Jackie Jones said of her sister, a librarian in the Charleston area for more than 30 years. “There was nothing that she wouldn’t do for me that I wouldn’t do for her.”
Ethel Lance was at Emanuel so much, she was practically part of the church itself. The church’s proud sexton, it was Lance’s job to keep the church clean, which she did in immaculate fashion.
That pride translated to her own appearance, said granddaughter Najee Washington, smiling as she described how the 70-year-old splurged on weekly manicures, her favorite colors cotton candy pink and bright red.
Even when she wasn’t at Emanuel, Lance brought the spirit of the church home with her, blasting gospel music throughout the house on Saturdays. It was her weekly wakeup call that it was time to get moving and cleaning up.
“She was that glue, that stable foundation,’” Washington said.
“Grandma Susie” was the matriarch of her large family, which stretched all the way to grandson Walter Jackson Jr. in New Jersey. It was nothing for the 87-year-old to hop in a bus to attend a graduation, birthday or other celebration, her grandson said.
But church came first. No matter what, “she always made sure we knew the importance of attending church,” Walter Jackson Jr. said. “Church at Mother Emanuel is pretty much an all-day thing.”
Susie’s 70th birthday was a surprise party in Emanuel’s fellowship hall. She’d be there anyway, so it was the most logical place to pick for her celebration.
“She was just so peaceful, and she loved on everybody,” her grandson said. “It doesn’t matter where she was, she kept God first.”
The youngest to die at Emanuel, Tywanza Sanders was a creative young man with varied interests. His father, Tyrone, described the 26-year-old as his fishing buddy.
Tywanza’s mother, Felicia Sanders, attended Bible study with her son the night he died, describing during the trial how she was there when her son came into the world and when he left it. She said Tywanza was a prolific aspiring poet who left behind days’ worth of reading material.
Her comments to Roof in court were perhaps the most memorable.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” she said. “Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you but may God have mercy on you.”
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/