Family of Emanuel AME Shooting Victims Critical of Church Keeping $1.8M Donations

Emanuel AME
A crowd gathers outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after a prayer vigil nearby in Charleston, South Carolina, June 19, 2015. |

Many family members of the victims and survivors of the Emanuel AME Church massacre that left nine people dead last year are seething over a decision by the church to distribute $1.5 million of the donations they received after the tragedy while keeping over $1.8 million for the church.

The Post and Courier reported Friday that some family members were angered that the church kept more of the donations than it divided up among the nine families and five survivors.

Church leaders, according to the Post and Courier, said only about $280,000 of the donations sent to the church was earmarked for the family members. A vast majority of donations sent to the church didn't specify where the money should go, they said. The church subsequently decided to give family members and survivors more than $1 million in addition the approximately $280,000 donors specified for them.

Last June, The Christian Post reported on the horrific crime committed by white gunman Dylann Roof who opened fire during a Bible study inside the historic black church in Charleston, killing nine people including the church's pastor.

The Rev. Sharon Risher, whose 70-year-old mother Ethel Lance died in the shooting, said the church was disrespectful in making that call.

"It's just sad how the church continues to disrespect the families," Risher told the Post and Courier of Charleston.

Emanuel leaders said they will use the $1.8 million for building maintenance needs along with an endowment, a memorial and scholarships. Wilbur Johnson, the church's attorney, said another $78,000 specified for the city of Charleston Hope Fund will also be sent there for distribution, according to The Associated Press.

Family members of the victims as well as survivors received checks along with formal letters from the church via certified mail last week.

"This sum represents the distribution to you of a percentage of the total amount of funds, calculated upon the basis of the number of immediate family members of the Emanuel 9 victims and survivors," the form letter said, according to the Post and Courier.

The letter said nothing about how much money the church received or how they decided how much money each family would get.

"There was nothing personal about it at all," Andy Savage, an attorney who represents several victims' families and survivors Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, said in the report.

Johnson said the church used the same formula the city used to disburse the Hope Fund but also included additional family members "in an effort to broaden the reach of the donations and in recognition of the church's pastoral outreach," according to the Post and Courier.

It explained that the Hope Fund formula divided 55 percent of donations equally among the nine victims' beneficiaries, 25 percent among the five shooting survivors, 10 percent among children of those killed, 5 percent to education expenses and 5 percent to a special needs account.

The church had reportedly planned to send the donations it received to the Hope Fund for distribution but city attorneys rejected the money due to a pending lawsuit and other questions raised about the church leadership's handling of the donations.

"They initially asked if the city would be open to that, but because of the (Arthur) Hurd litigation and other concerns expressed to us from the family members and survivors, we said we don't want to get into the middle of any dispute," Laura Evans, an attorney who oversaw the city's Hope Fund distribution said.

Until a few weeks ago, a judge's order had prevented the church from disbursing donations due to a lawsuit filed by the husband of victim Cynthia Graham Hurd last fall. The suit which sought an accounting of the donations was dismissed.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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