Mass shoot­ing dur­ing prayers at a black South Carolina church res­onates far be­yond

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ti­mothy M. Phelps, Christo­pher Gof­fard and Richard A. Ser­rano

CHARLESTON, S.C. — He ar­rived at the Cal­houn Street church at 8:17 p.m., a pale, gaunt young man with a fish­bowl hair­cut and put­ty­like fea­tures. He passed un­der the great steeple of Emanuel AME and opened the tall wooden door. He wore a gray sweat­shirt and a dark pouch around his waist.

He was not en­ter­ing just any church, but a pre­em­i­nent sym­bol of the South’s black faith com­mu­nity and a sanc­tu­ary for gen­er­a­tions of wor­shipers. Parish­ioners had gath­ered for their Wed­nes­day evening prayer meet­ing, and they wel­comed him.

For nearly an hour, he sat among them, po­lice say. He chose a spot near the pas­tor lead­ing the ser­vice, Cle­menta C. Pinck­ney, a 41-year-old fa­ther of two and a state sen­a­tor.

Then, po­lice say, 21-yearold Dy­lann Storm Roof pulled out his gun and be­gan fir­ing, shout­ing, “I have to do this.” Po­lice say he shot Pinck­ney first, me­thod­i­cally fir­ing and reload­ing un­til the pas­tor and eight oth­ers were mor­tally wounded.

Po­lice said he left three sur­vivors, one of whom told po­lice he al­lowed her to live so she could tell her story.

Amid a mas­sive man­hunt, Roof fled more than 200 miles to Shelby, N.C., where po­lice say they caught him Thurs­day morn­ing dur­ing a traf­fic stop.

The shoot­ing has res­onated across the coun­try, in a year when race re­la­tions have surged to the fore­front af­ter a se­ries of vi­o­lent episodes in­volv­ing po­lice and black cit­i­zens. Among the most vivid was a white of­fi­cer’s fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed black man, Wal­ter

Scott, in April in North Charleston, about 10 miles away from Wed­nes­day’s vi­o­lence.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch said the church shoot­ing would be in­ves­ti­gated as a hate crime.

Pres­i­dent Obama said he was sad­dened and an­gry. “There is some­thing par­tic­u­larly heart­break­ing about the death hap­pen­ing in a place in which we seek so­lace and we seek peace, in a place of wor­ship,” he said.

Obama called on the na­tion to act against gun vi­o­lence. “At some point we as a coun­try will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass vi­o­lence does not hap­pen in other de­vel­oped coun­tries,” he said.

The day af­ter the shoot­ing, hun­dreds of Charleston res­i­dents, black and white, came to­gether for a prayer vigil at Mor­ris Brown AME Church, a nearby sis­ter church to Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal.

Mourn­ers crowded into ev­ery pew and bal­cony seat. Hun­dreds lis­tened out­side in the hot sun. Or­di­nary cit­i­zens, lo­cal and state of­fi­cials, con­gress­men and min­is­ters from across the city at­tended.

Re­li­gious lead­ers ex­horted the au­di­ence not to turn to racial an­i­mos­ity. “God take out of our hearts our fear and help us walk in bold­ness,” one of the min­is­ters prayed. “God take out the an­i­mos­ity and the ha­tred from our hearts.”

U.S. Rep. James E. Cly­burn (D-S.C.) called on the con­gre­ga­tion to speak out against racism and in­jus­tice. “I’m here to­day to beg you, when you leave these hal­lowed halls, please break your si­lence,” he said. “Speak up. If we stay silent, they win. They must not win.”

Charleston is a city small enough that the killings feel per­sonal, city Coun­cil­man Keith War­ing said af­ter the 90-minute ser­vice. “We are all in­ter­con­nected. That’s why it hurts.”

Marvin Stewart said he was griev­ing for Cyn­thia Hurd, 54, his co-worker at the public li­brary.

“I just saw her yesterday,” he said. “I have known her for 25 years. She helped dec­o­rate my house.” The li­braries were closed Thurs­day in mourn­ing, he said.

“This is just pure evil at work. It is be­yond race,” Stewart said.

Many agreed with Stewart that racial ha­tred was not a suf­fi­cient ex­pla­na­tion for what had hap­pened.

“How do you ex­plain hate? Hate doesn’t have a color,” said the Rev. John Richard Bryant. The shooter picked the wrong city and the wrong com­mu­nity to at­tack, he said, be­cause Charleston would not re­act with ha­tred.

But Dot Scott, pres­i­dent of the Charleston NAACP, said af­ter­ward that “the shooter made clear it was about race. This is the state of South Carolina.”

She added that the string of killings of African Amer­i­can men by po­lice around the coun­try had be­come the “fer­til­izer for this mind-set” that led to the church mas­sacre.

Charleston Mayor Joseph Ri­ley pledged to reach out to Emanuel AME Church, a ma­jor­ity black con­gre­ga­tion with a long and distin­guished history that traces its roots to the an­te­bel­lum pe­riod.

“We will put our arms around that church and that church fam­ily,” Ri­ley said. The shoot­ing, he said, was the deed of “a hor­ri­ble, hate­ful per­son,” and was “be­yond any com­pre­hen­sion.”

Richard Co­hen, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter in Alabama, which tracks racial hate crimes, said the at­tack, said to be by a white man on an im­por­tant and long-stand­ing black church, was “an ob­vi­ous hate crime by some­one who feels threat­ened by our coun­try’s chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and the in­creas­ing promi­nence of African Amer­i­cans in public life.”

Co­hen said the Charleston shoot­ing was all the more trou­bling be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice ac­count, the as­sailant brazenly walked into the church, stayed an hour and acted like one of the con­gre­ga­tion in prayer.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly creepy,” Co­hen said. “He walks into a black church and then stands up and opens fire. Maybe he waited first to get his courage up, or he was hav­ing sec­ond thoughts.”

But Co­hen said it was “clas­sic white supremacy” be­hav­ior to pre­tend to be part of a group you want to tar­get.

He said there are 16 white supremacy and hate or­ga­ni­za­tions in South Carolina. He noted that many young peo­ple scour the In­ter­net and are rad­i­cal­ized in that way, much like ter­ror­ists.

Roof ’s Face­book page shows him wear­ing a dark jacket bear­ing em­blems as­so­ci­ated with the white su­prem­a­cist move­ment — the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and white-ruled Rhode­sia, now known as Zim­babwe.

“Since 9/11, our coun­try has been fix­ated on the threat of ji­hadi ter­ror­ism. But the hor­rific tragedy at the Emanuel AME re­minds us that the threat of home­grown do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism is very real,” Co­hen said.

Gov. Nikki Ha­ley said the shooter’s hate would not di- vide South Carolina.

“He was hop­ing to di­vide this state and this coun­try,” she added. “But what he doesn’t know is what he did is go­ing to bring us a whole lot closer.”

Pinck­ney, the slain pas­tor and state sen­a­tor, had spon­sored a bill to equip po­lice agen­cies in the state with body cam­eras. The leg­isla­tive push came af­ter Wal­ter Scott’s killing by an of­fi­cer who faces mur­der charges af­ter a by­stander cap­tured the in­ci­dent on video.

Roof had been ar­rested twice in Columbia, S.C., this year for drug pos­ses­sion and tres­pass­ing at a mall, po­lice re­ports show.

At Emanuel AME, dozens of flo­ral bou­quets and bal­loons sig­ni­fied Charleston’s sym­pa­thy.

Joyce Gil­liard prayed in a tear­ful, close em­brace with Rhonda John­son and her two daugh­ters from Wilm­ing­ton, N.C.

Gil­liard said a close friend of her fam­ily lost two aunts and a cousin in the church car­nage.

“My heart is hurt­ing,” Gil­liard said. “I wanted to be here for the com­mu­nity.”

The Rev. Al Sharp­ton, a some­times po­lar­iz­ing civil rights leader from New York, was muted in his com­ments af­ter pray­ing in front of Emanuel AME.

It is “a time for heal­ing,” not po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary, Sharp­ton said. Not­ing that the vic­tims were at Bi­ble study, he said, “If we can’t go to church, where can we go?”

Joe Raedle Getty Im­ages

MOURN­ERS GATHER to pay re­spects out­side Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston, S.C. Po­lice say the gun­man sat with church­go­ers for nearly an hour Wed­nes­day night be­fore he opened fire.

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