Lifestyle & Human Interest

What Happened 4 Years Ago at the Charleston Church Shooting


On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old man was welcomed into a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As others in the group opened their Bibles, he emptied the guns he had sneaked in.

It has been four years since that heartbreaking day, but producers Viola Davis and Steph Curry have illuminated the story in their new film, “Emanuel.”

As with any tragic event in history, it is worth revisiting no matter how uncomfortable it may make us feel so that we are reminded of its implications and honor the innocent lives lost.

Who are the victims of the Charleston Church Shooting? 

These are the nine people who were killed on June 17, 2015:

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On June 17, 2015, nine innocent lives were taken at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
On June 17, 2015, nine innocent lives were taken at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

What Happened on the Day of the Shooting at Emanuel AME Church?

On the evening of June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof walked through the doors of the Emanuel AME Church, also known as “Mother Emanuel.” At the same time, Reverend Clementa Pinckney was hosting a bible study.

Those in the bible study group welcomed Roof and, according to the Federal Grand Jury Indictment, he sat next to Rev. Pinckney. Forty-five minutes after the Bible study started, the welcomed stranger pulled out a pistol he had bought two months prior and began shooting as many people as he possibly could.

Nine people were fatally shot: Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74; and Myra Thompson, 59.

Roof also injured three others: K.M., 11; Felicia Sanders, 58; and Polly Sheppard, 70.

Felicia Sanders told ABC News that she grabbed her granddaughter and told her to play dead as she felt the blood of loved ones pooling around her.

“I was just waiting on my turn,” she added. “Even if I got shot, I just didn’t want my granddaughter to get shot.”

Sanders also said that her youngest son, Tywanza, stood up to the man who had come with hateful intentions and asked, “Why are you doing this?”

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The gunman replied, “I have to do this because y’all raping our women and taking over the world.” He then shot Tywanza. Sanders watched in disbelief as her son took his last breath.

“I watched my son come into this world, and I watched my son leave this world,” she said.

Roof then walked out of the church to his car and left.

Brandon Risher is comforted as he spends time at the casket of his grandmother, Ethel Lance, 70, who was one of nine victims of a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

When was Dylann Storm Roof Captured and Convicted?

Dylann Storm Roof was arrested the next morning, on June 18, 2015, at a traffic stop over 200 miles north from Emanuel AME Church. Also found in his car was a list of other churches, a Confederate flag, a burned U.S. flag and a gun.

He appeared in court for the first time through video conferencing, but family members of those who had been killed had a special message for the shooter, a message of forgiveness.

“I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, Ethel Lance’s daughter, said. “You took something very precious from me and I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Myra Thompson’s husband, Anthony Thompson, echoed Collier’s words of forgiveness, but also pleaded that the young man repent of his hatred.

“I forgive you,” Thompson told Roof. “But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happened to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

Roof was found guilty and sentenced to death in federal court on Jan. 10, 2017.

“Motivated by racist hatred, Dylann Roof murdered and attempted to murder innocent African-American parishioners as they worshiped in the historic Mother Emanuel church,” the United States Attorney at that time, Beth Drake, said.

“But, contrary to Roof’s desire to sow the seeds of hate, his acts did not tear this community apart. Instead of agitating racial tensions as he had hoped, Roof’s deadly attack inside Mother Emanuel became an attack on all of us, and the community stood in solidarity.”

Viola Davis and Steph Curry Explore the Healing Process of the Community in “Emanuel”

Four years after the tragic shooting, Oscar winner Viola Davis and NBA star Steph Curry released a documentary called “Emanuel” where they explore the healing process of the community in light of their incredible forgiveness and faith.

Rev. Celementa Pinckney’s wife told the Associated Press that she hopes the movie “opens people’s eyes.”

“It’s like an awareness,” she said. “We have to get to that point where we start respecting, and showing more love and more care, and coming together, (and) becoming one unity.”

The film will only be in theaters on June 17, 2019, and June 19, 2019. To see if a theater near you is screening this powerful film, visit the official website.

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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