They went to church Wednesday evening to study Scripture. And when a gunman showed up in their midst, they had a chance to live out key lessons of their faith.
Now, through newspaper accounts and personal testimonies, the victims of a shooting at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., are teaching the rest of the world.
Most dramatically, perhaps, is the example of Tywanza Sanders [pictured above from his Facebook page], a recent college graduate. A relative, Kristen Washington, told the New York Times, that Sanders put himself between the gunman and his 87-year-old aunt, Susie Jackson:
They said that almost an hour after he arrived, the gunman suddenly stood and pulled a gun, and Ms. Washington’s cousin Tywanza Sanders, 26, known as the peacemaker of the family, tried to calmly talk the man out of violence.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told the gunman, Ms. Washington recounted.
The gunman replied, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”
“That was who he was,” Washington, said of Sanders.
The gunman ignored Sanders’ plea, killed him, and proceeded to shoot Jackson and seven others. Most died on the scene. One died in hospital. Said the Times:
The nine victims — three men and six women, who ranged in age from 26 to 87 — were leaders, motivators, counselors and the people everyone could turn to for a heap of prayer, friends and relatives said.
Torrence Shaw, for example, remembers Sanders helping him cope with the death of his father. He reminded Shaw that, with his older brother away at school, he had to step up and be the “man of the family.”
Pastor Pinckney, 41, who was also a South Carolina state senator, once said, "I see everything I do as an extension of the ministry. It’s all about service."
As horrendous as the act of killing people in their own place of worship was, a spirit of forgivenes has already begun to emerge—another lesson from studying Scipture. Chris Singleton, son of slain Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, attended a vigil in his mother’s honor Thursday at Goose Creek High School in suburban Charleston.
"We forgive, that’s one thing we are going to do," he told NBC station WCBD.
A suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in Shelby, N.C. He has been charged with nine counts of murder. South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley said she hopes prosecutors will seek the death penalty.