CHARLESTON — We are learning the identities of the victims in the cowardly attack on a black Church in Charleston.
Reverend and community leader Clementa Pinckney, his sister, recent university graduate Tywanza Sanders, librarian Cynthia Hurd and high school track coach Sharonda Coleman-Singleton were among the nine victims according to reports.
Charleston Southern University confirmed Coleman-Singleton’s death in a statement. She was also a pastor in the church, according to the Emanuel AME Church website.
Cynthia Hurd, an employee of the Charleston County Public Library, was among the victims, according to The Huffington Post.
“We have staff members who have worked with her before on various projects. She had 31 years of service at the library in Charleston,” he said. “All CCPL branches have closed today.” The library also posted a statement that called Hurd “a tireless servant of the community who spent her life helping residents, making sure they had every opportunity for an education and personal growth.”
MORE: On Wednesday, around 8:00 PM, 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Lexington, South Carolina, entered the Emanuel AME church located at 110 Calhoun Street and began shooting church members. Nine people were killed.
Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen says Roof stayed at a prayer meeting for nearly an hour before he opened fire.
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of church pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the attack—says a survivor told her the gunman reloaded five times. “He just said ‘I have to do it,’” Johnson reports the survivor saying. “‘You rape our women and you’re taking over the country. You have to go.’”
Among the dead was state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Authorities have called the shooting a hate crime.
CNN reported that Roof’s father had purchased a .45 handgun for his son’s birthday and that matches the caliber of the gun found in his arrest. Because the gun was a gift and not directly tied to Roof, if the casings match those found at the sight of the crime it could tie the alleged shooter to the scene.
Roof’s childhood friend, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after recognizing him in a surveillance camera image that was widely circulated, said Meek’s mother, Kimberly Konzny. Roof had worn the same sweatshirt while playing Xbox videogames in their home recently.
The gunman was apprehended Roof nearly four hours away from the crime scene in Shelby, South Carolina after a citizen provided a tip about someone driving erratically. Police Chief Gregory Mullen said alleged shooter Dylann Storm Roof was taken into custody with no resistance at 11:15 a.m. around 45 miles from Charlotte and 245 miles from Charleston.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the shooting at the church known as “Mother Emanuel” “heartbreaking” and “tragic” and said the Department of Justice had opened a hate crime investigation. “We stand ready to offer every resource, every means, and every tool that we possess in order to locate and to apprehend the perpetrator of this barbaric crime,” Lynch said. “Acts like this one have no place in our country and no place in a civilized society, and I want to be clear, the individual who committed these acts will be found and will face justice.”
A female survivor whom Roof allegedly kept alive so she could report on the massacre to others told family that the gunman first sat down in the church for up to an hour before opening fire. Three people survived the attack, which took the lives of six women and three men, all of whom were black.
“There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” NAACP president Cornell William Brooks said in a statement.
Roof was previously arrested on April 26 on a trespassing charge and was awaiting moderation. He was also recently arrested for possession of a controlled substance on March 3.
A sparse Facebook page shows an image of Roof in a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
In a short and somber statement from the White House briefing room on Thursday, President Obama restarted a debate over the nation’s recent history with gun violence.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said. “… 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.”
From Business Insider: — According to CBS’ Mark Knoller, this is the 14th time Obama has made a statement after a mass shooting. It was another example, he said, of innocent people being killed because a someone who “wanted to inflict harm” had “no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
In a rather revealing moment, Obama acknowledged an understanding on the politics of the issue. The administration pushed Congress to pass new restrictions on gun ownership in 2013 after the massacre that killed 26 people — including 20 children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. But the Senate failed to move forward on even the most basic bill Obama had pushed.
“It is in our power to do something about it,” he said. “I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.” —
Reverend James Johnson, a local civil rights activist, said during the impromptu prayer service: “We pray for the families, they’ve got a long road ahead of them.”
The campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sent out an email saying that due to the shooting, the candidate had cancelled an event planned in the city Thursday.
His campaign team said in a statement: “Governor Bush’s thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by this tragedy,” his campaign team said in a statement.”
Formed in 1816, the Emanuel African is one of the largest black congregation churches in the US.
One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.