Beaufort News

In their own words: Local and regional reaction to Emanuel AME shooting

Members of the community join hands and say a prayer on Thursday for the nine victims of Wednesday's Charleston church shooting during a special Prayer in the Park gathering at Ridgeland's Harold Turpin Park. One of the victims of the shooting was Ridgeland's State Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
Members of the community join hands and say a prayer on Thursday for the nine victims of Wednesday's Charleston church shooting during a special Prayer in the Park gathering at Ridgeland's Harold Turpin Park. One of the victims of the shooting was Ridgeland's State Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Staff photo

Statements and updates from the Lowcountry and farther afield on the tragic shooting of nine people at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, including SC Sen. Clementa Pinckney of Jasper County.

Click or tap here for a list of vigils and services planned for the Emanuel AME Church victims.

Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett statement

"I join with all those who are grieving over the loss of a true friend of Hilton Head Island and certainly the entire Lowcountry—Clementa Pinckney, as well as the eight other worshippers who were tragically murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday evening. Senator Pinckney, who represented our region with both dignity and strength of character, was genuinely close to many of our citizens. The violent loss of so many of the Lord’s servants as they worshipped at their church weighs heavily on our hearts. We share in the acute pain being felt today by the families left behind. I am grateful that so many local churches are holding special memorial services and adopting other means of expressing compassion for those impacted by this calamity. Beginning at 7:30 this evening (June 19), there will be a memorial service and prayer vigil here on Hilton Head Island at Queen’s Chapel AME at 114 Beach City Road. I know our congregations of all faiths and denominations will be earnestly praying for those most directly affected by this tragic event. These are times to support one another and provide comfort to those who need it. As a community, we have been closely bonded with Charleston since Hurricane Hugo occurred. Now, during this storm, we may certainly lift them up spiritually in our hearts. So, in the midst of these troubled times, what should communities do to build and strengthen relationships? Some weeks ago, I was honored to be in attendance with my good friend, Alex Brown at a meeting where Grace Community Church of Hilton Head decided to partner with Central Oak Grove Baptist Church of Hilton Head, to begin building bridges between the citizens of our community. Since then, and perhaps sensing an urgency to come together, many from our community have joined the effort, and the inaugural event, on Independence Day at Honey Horn, titled “One Island – One Community” could not be more timely in the aftermath of this tragedy. I encourage all of the citizens of Hilton Head Island to attend on July 4th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to honor those who lost their lives in this tragic event by supporting local efforts to fellowship, gain understanding, build relationships and encourage unity in our community. I appreciate the leadership that Governor Haley and Mayor Riley have shown in communicating comfort and extending encouragement to the people of Charleston, particularly those who are part of the Emanuel Church family. These are days in which we should and will stand together. I know my family is committed to pray for comfort, peace and wisdom for those in Charleston, Jasper County and here in our own community as healing and recovery occurs in the days ahead."

Hillary Clinton, who was in Charleston just hours before the shooting, at a presidential campaign event, statement

“Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. I was in Charleston yesterday. I went to a technical school—Trident Tech—where I met with young people who are serving apprenticeships. It was such a positive, upbeat, optimistic event. So many of those young people were for the first time seeing what they could do and being paid for doing it.

The administration and faculty of the school was so proud. The businesses that were employing the diverse group of apprentices were getting their money’s worth. And I left feeling not only great about Charleston, but great about America.

When I got to Las Vegas, I learned about the horrific massacre in the church. You know the shock and pain of this crime of hate strikes deep. Nine people—women and men—cut down at prayer. Murdered in a house of God. It just broke my heart. That of course is the last place we should ever see violence. We shouldn’t see it anywhere.

In the days ahead we will once again ask what led to this terrible tragedy and where we as a nation need to go. In order to make sense of it, we have to be honest. We have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns, and division.

Today, we join our hearts with the people of Charleston and South Carolina—people everywhere—who pray for the victims, who pray for the families, who pray for a community that knows too much sorrow. And we pray for justice. That the people of Charleston find peace and that our country finds unity.

The church where these killings took place is known as Mother Emanuel. And like any mother, it holds its flock close. Today is a day to hold each other even closer. More than fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told the families of the girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, “You do not walk alone.” Today we say to the families of Mother Emanuel and to all the people of Charleston, “You do not walk alone.”

You do not walk alone because millions of Americans—regardless of race or creed or ethnicity or religion—are walking with you. In grief. In solidarity. In determination. We are with you. And we stand with you as we seek answers and take action. How many innocent people in our country—from little children, to church members, to movie theater attendees—how many people do we need to see cut down before we act?

So as we mourn and as our hearts break a little more, and as we send this message of solidarity, we will not forsake those who have been victimized by gun violence. This time we have to find answers together. I pledge to you, I will work with you—those of you who are local officials, those of you who are thinking hard about your own communities. Let’s unite in partnership, not just to talk, but to act.”

Jane Upshaw, USCB Chancellor, letter

Dear Friends of USCB, The events of last night in Charleston at the Emanuel AME Church weigh heavy on our individual and collective hearts. The unspeakably horrific act is so antithetical to the values that we have spent our lives espousing through careers in higher education that we struggle to even comprehend that it occurred. We grieve for all of the victims, their families and particularly our beloved Senator, Clementa Pinckney, from Ridgeland, SC. Senator Pinckney was a larger than life leader, who made history as both the youngest African American to be elected first to the South Carolina House and then to the South Carolina Senate. He was a great supporter of USCB and held his Senator-for-a-Day speaking contest for Jasper County high school students each year on our campus since it opened. He was a great supporter of parity for SC students at USCB. We have been blessed by his dedication and commitment to our institution, our region and our state. Please keep Senator Pinckney’s wife, children and family in your thoughts and prayers along with the other victims and their families. We will miss his beautiful booming voice, his commanding presence and his dedicated leadership. Regards, Jtu

Beaufort County school board, letter

The Beaufort County School District Board of Trustees expresses deepest sympathy and condolences on the loss of all who tragically and needlessly lost their lives as a result of the horrific act of hatred at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

The Beaufort County School District Board of Trustees in particular wishes to express our deepest sympathy and condolences on the loss of the great and honorable statesman, leader and beloved pastor, Senator Clementa C. Pinckney. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Senator's family and the families of all those impacted by this terrible crime.

Our hearts ache from the loss created by their passing.

Senator Pinckney was a beloved husband and father, honored statesman, beloved pastor, civil rights leader, political leader and community leader.

Senator Pinckney's passing will leave a tremendous void for his family, and his church family. Senator Pinckney's passing will also leave a tremendous leadership vacuum for Beaufort, Hampton, and Jasper counties as well as the state of South Carolina.

We join you in mourning this tremendous loss and pray that the Lord will fold you in his loving embrace and give you comfort.

Sincerely,Mary M. CordrayBeaufort County school board, Vice Chair

Classmates reflect

Biner Lawyer-Green, left, of Robertsville, S.C., and Topeka Williams, of Hardeeville, console each other during a special Prayer in the Park service at Ridgeland's Harold Turpin Park on June 18, 2015, for the nine victims of the June 17, 2015, shooting inside Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, including S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, of Ridgeland. Both Lawyer-Green and Williams attended high school with Pinckney. "I couldn't believe it," said Williams. "It doesn't seem real ... we've got to come together," said Lawyer-Green. (Jay Karr/Staff photo)

Matt Moore, SC GOP Chairman, statement

"Today is undoubtedly one of the saddest days in our state's history. Our hearts ache for the friends and families of State Senator Clementa Pinckney and the eight others who were senselessly murdered. We lift them up in prayer as well as the congregation of Emanuel AME church.

"'Emanuel' literally means 'God is with us.' We know that He is with the victims and congregation at Emanuel - and that as the Apostle Matthew said, 'Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'

"It is unfathomable that a person could walk into the Lord's house and take nine innocent lives. Despite this senseless act of violence, I hope people of all faiths will continue to find refuge in their houses of worship.

"We also pray for justice for each victims' family, and thank the emergency and law enforcement officers who so capably responded to help."

Town of Beaufort

Flags fly at half staff in front of Beaufort City Hall on June 18, 2015, in honor of the victims of the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (Jay Karr/Staff photo)

Impromptu prayer meeting in Ridgeland

Clementa Pinckney's step sister and several cousins were among a group of about 30 people who joined hands and prayed behind the Jasper County School District building in Ridgeland just after noon. One cousin said the family seeks privacy, though they are planning to hold a vigil next Wednesday. The cousin, who asked not to be named, said Pinckney's wife and children were not injured.

"To go to church with your dad and not be able to leave with him, that's different," she said. "Out of somebody's hatefulness."

Jasper County Sheriff Gregory Jenkins, pastor of Kingdom Touch Ministries, said the prayer circles have been held weekly for about two or three years, but will now continue daily at noon in honor of those killed in Charleston.

"We believe prayer is going to be the key," he said.

SC Legislative Black Caucus statement

"It is with heavy hearts that we, SC Legislative Black Caucus, mourn the death of our colleague Senator Clementa Pinckney. His life and the lives of 8 others were taken in an act of domestic terrorism. The horrific events of last evening may have shaken our resolve but we are standing strong. We have lost a mighty Statesman and Man of God who will long be remembered for this integrity and servant nature.

Senator Pinckney was a servant leader who used his life to demonstrate his passion and love for his God and his community. A man of grand stature in appearance and spirit, Senator Pinckney was a voice of reason for those in which he served. Since his time in the legislature, Senator Pinckney has brought positive change to not only the lives to the residents of Jasper County, but also to the lives of everyone he touched. Our prayers and love go out to his wife Jennifer and two children Eilana and Malana and family members. We also pray for the families of the other 8 victims, the community as well as the entire Mother Emanuel AME Church family."

Sen. Tom Davis on Pinckney

Last month, S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney spoke in favor of body camera requirements for South Carolina officers on the floor of the chamber following the police shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston.

"It was probably the most eloquent and poignant speech I've heard in the seven years I've been in the Senate," said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. The speech parallels the Christian story of doubting Thomas, the apostle who didn't believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw and touched his wounds. Pinckney relates the story to people's reactions after footage surfaced of Scott's death.

"That clip shows his sheer decency as a human being, his passion and his strong sense for justice at times when people are feeling things and really aren't sure how to express them," Davis said. "He had an amazing ability to stand up there and express our feelings and urge action. Even if you didn't agree with him, he was somebody you respected, and his eyes were always toward justice."

Here's a clip of Sen. Clementa Pinckney speaking on the North Charleston shooting & LEO body cameras. I thought what my state-senate colleague said was extremely eloquent and poignant, and I urge you to give this a listen and share it with a friend.Posted by Tom Davis on Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Charlestonian pays her respects

Emory Campbell on Pinckney

Renowned Gullah leader Emory Campbell's children grew up with Pinckney.

He said he was shocked by the slayings, but chose to reflect on Pinckney's accomplishments and the hopes he still had of improving life for others in Jasper County.

Campbell recalled hearing one of Pinckney's first sermons at a youth conference in Ridgeland.

Even as a teenager, it was clear he would become an outstanding leader, Campbell said. His preaching and advocacy only strengthened over the years.

"He had a voice that jarred on the ears" Campbell said. "He spoke very deeply and would awaken the congregation."

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford statement

"I join with the people of Charleston and the Lowcountry of South Carolina in sending both thoughts and prayers to the families affected in the tragedy of Wednesday night. I don't understand and can't comprehend this sort of malice. Accordingly, I simply pray that God's faith, that I know to be so strong at the Emanuel Church, will be part of what gets both their congregation and our community through this horrendous action."

Former S.C. Rep. Bakari Sellers on Pinckney

Former Rep. Bakari Sellers, a Democrat and friend of Pinckney who unsuccessfully ran for the statewide office of lieutenant governor last year, said Pinckney, prayed for him and with him about his long-shot run.

"He believed in me when not a lot of people did," Sellers said Thursday morning.

That is Pickney's legacy, Sellers said -- believing and advocating for those who faced great odds.

"He advocated for those who didn't have a voice," said Sellers who represented a portion of poor, rural Colleton County along with Pinckney.

"We represented people who didn't have much. His voice was so deep because he was speaking for so many people."

Sellers was not far from Pinckney's church Wednesday evening at the time of the shooting. He was a few blocks away on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston, attending a private event at a home with Secretary of State and U.S. presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

After the event wrapped up and Sellers headed out of Charleston, he noticed several police cars zooming past. Twitter alerted him that something had happened at Pinckney's church. A short time later, he learned of his friend's death.

"When you lose someone like this in a state where the progress we (Democrats) have made is so fragile, it's horrible," Sellers said. "And worse, we've lost a good man doing what he loved, praying to his lord."

Lee Smalls, Campbell Chapel AME Church on Pinckney

Lee Smalls of Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton said he planned to travel to Charleston tomorrow to join others honoring Pinckney.

A vigil is planned at a Charleston church at noon today, Smalls said.

Smalls served as a steward under Pinckney when the senator was pastor of Campbell for a few years around 2008, and knew Pinckney since he was a teenager.

Smalls says he helped Pinckney with his first political campaign.

"He was a fine man," Smalls said. "It just bleeds my heart to think of what happened to him."

"We're all just in an uproar," Frank Gadson, a church member of Campbell Chapel AME said.

Beaufort County delegation statement

"The Beaufort County Legislative Delegation is deeply shocked and saddened by the recent violence at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. We especially grieve the loss of our colleague, Senator Clementa Pinckney, as well as others who have been killed, injured or affected by this heinous crime. We urge law enforcement to act swiftly to bring the perpetrator of these horrific actions to justice, while we focus on pulling together in this time of sorrow and grief. We would ask everyone to join us in keeping all of the families and community in prayer and remembrance. Senator Pinckney was a devout leader and gifted clergyman who would not want violence to win the day. With that as our goal, we will work for peace, justice and healing."

Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of SC, statement:

"The ACLU of South Carolina expresses its profound condolences to the victims' families in the wake of this senseless tragedy. Events like this are further evidence that we need to be fighting for racial equality in our daily lives. Although the motives are unclear at this point, this attack against Black people in an institution that has such historical and cultural importance detracts from years of healing undertaken by our communities. Senator Clementa Pinckney stood for civil liberties, and we mourn his loss with the other victims."

Scott T. Price, Executive Director-elect of the SC School Boards Association, statement

"The entire education community is deeply saddened over the extremely horrendous death of Senator Pinckney and all of the victims in the Emanuel AME Church shooting on Wednesday. Senator Pinckney was a true champion for public education who worked tirelessly to advocate not only for the students in the districts he served but for all of South Carolina's students. We pray for his family and everyone affected by this senseless crime."

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley statement

"Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight's senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church. While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers."

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott statement

"My heart is breaking for Charleston and South Carolina tonight. This senseless tragedy at a place of worship - where we come together to laugh, love and rejoice in God's name - is absolutely despicable and can never be understood.

Tonight we stand together in prayer for Pastor Pinckney and his congregation at Emanuel AME , and for the families who are enduring unimaginable pain at the loss of their loved ones. We will come together as a city and as a state to lift up those who need us most right now. I hope for their sake, and for the people of Charleston, that the perpetrators of this terrible crime are swiftly brought to justice."

Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President & CEO statement

"The NAACP was founded to fight against racial hatred, and we are outraged that 106 years later, we are faced today with another mass hate crime. Our heartfelt prayers and soul-deep condolences go out to the families and community of the victims at Charleston's historic Emanuel AME Church. The senselessly slain parishioners were in a church for Wednesday night bible study. There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture. Today, I mourn as an AME minister, as a student and teacher of scripture, as well as a member of the NAACP.

The NAACP South Carolina State Conference and Charleston Branch have been working on the ground with police and the community to bring this case to a close. We remain vigilant while the local police and FBI investigate this hate crime and bring the shooter to justice."

The business community reacts

"All of us at the New River Auto Mall were extremely shocked and saddened by the death of Sen. Pinckney, his sister, and the other victims of the mass shooting in Charleston," said Jill Jauch, Coastal States Automotive Group Marketing and Advertising Manager. "He was a great community partner and supporter of our business, and we enjoyed sponsoring his Senator For A Day Competition for many years. This is a big loss for the Lowcountry, and for the whole state of South Carolina. He will be missed."