One year after a white man shot dead nine African-American members of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, during a Bible study, the wife of the slain pastor recalled the last moments she spent with him, even as at least 2,000 people gathered for a three-hour service in the city to remember the victims.
Moments before the shooting, Jennifer Pinckney and her husband, Rev. Clementa Pickney, were getting ready to pay for a summer program for their daughter Malana, Jennifer Pinckney recalled in an interview with NBC's "Today," aired on Friday. The Rev. Pickney gave her the credit card, and said, "Here you go, darling," and he walked out the door to the Bible study, she said.
After the mass shooting on the evening of June 17 last year, the 21-year-old gunman, identified as Dylann Roof, confessed he killed the churchgoers in one of America's oldest black churches to ignite a race war.
"I started hearing the gunshots come closer until they started coming through the office," Jennifer said, adding that she and Malana hid under a desk, and Malana asked her, "Mama, is daddy gonna die?"
Jennifer also said that the shooter tried to open the door and come into the room where she and Malana were. But then he left.
At the service at the College of Charleston's TD Arena Friday, more than 2,000 people, including the state's politicians, remembered the nine victims: DePayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson.
Family members of the victims embraced each other inside the arena as they arrived for the service, led by former Emanuel interim pastor the Rev. Norvel Goff, according to The Post and Courier. Banners featuring the victims and saying, "Still speaking from eternity," were put up for the service.
Thomas Rose, who was at the Emanuel Bible study that night but left early to attend another church service and thus survived, spoke to the crowd, saying, "God's way of getting me out. It's still devastating and hard to accept. I've forgiven the guy because that's what they taught us, but I haven't forgotten."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, and Melissa Rogers – director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships – also spoke at the service.
"This is the way we redeem our human history," Tecklenburg was quoted as saying. "This is the way we honor the Emanuel Nine."
Rogers read a letter from the president and the first lady. Referring to last week's mass shooing at an Orlando gay nightclub, the letter said the congregation at Emanuel serves as an "inspiration."
"The enduring hope that you embody is not only a profound expression of your faith, but also a symbol of the courage that has guided America forward for generations," the message said. "Our nation continues to share in the grief that the men and women of Charleston feel. As the struggle continues, know that we are all part of a collective family that yearns to heal with you."
Gov. Haley, who attended each of the nine victims' funerals, said the Charleston shooting's three adult survivors — Polly Sheppard, Felicia Sanders and Jennifer Pinckney — taught her true courage. "I will always talk about these people who changed my life, and I will always be grateful," she was quoted as saying.
"I've come to the conclusion that Dylann Roof did the wrong research, wrong church, wrong people," Sen. Scott was quoted as saying. "Anyone who walks through the doors knows that Mother Emanuel rises from the ashes. It rises stronger."
"I know the result of people coming and showing their love," Emanuel Pastor Betty Deas Clark said, according to CNN.