Mourners recall Charleston church victims at service

Posted at 5:44 PM, Jun 17, 2016

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's governor somberly held up programs from the funerals of the victims of the Charleston church shootings, saying Friday during a memorial service that the faith of those victims showed how to heal in the aftermath of still another mass shooting.

"As for me, I will forever know that there are angels on Earth," said Gov. Nikki Haley during a three-hour service that was alternately somber and then punctuated by joyous singing.

Friday was the anniversary of the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. A white man, Dylann Roof, faces charges in both state and federal courts and prosecutors in each are seeking the death penalty.

Haley, who attended the funerals of all the victims, said she got to know the families of both those who were killed and the three survivors in the days and weeks following the shootings.

"There hasn't been a day since June 17, 2015 that I haven't thought about the 12," she said.

She recalled each victim, sometimes with gentle humor, as she showed the funeral programs she says she keeps as reminders.

The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor "had the voice of an angel," she said.

Haley recalled state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the Emanuel pastor who was slain as "a gentle giant" and a man "who never talked about what he was against. He always spoke about what he was for."

Haley said that in the wake of the shootings — after which many family members of the victims said they forgave Roof, the suspect charged in the deaths — the people of South Carolina "didn't have protests, they had vigils. They didn't have riots, they had hugs."

The College of Charleston's TD Arena, where the service was held, sits about 5,000 people and was about half full. The stage was lined with the pictures of the nine people killed. Above each were the words "Still Speaking from Eternity."

It's the same venue where President Barack Obama gave a rousing eulogy during the funeral for Pinckney that included a rendition of the hymn "Amazing Grace" for the packed audience at the TD Arena. The Obamas were accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill; nearly 6,000 people attended the funeral. Some 5,000 would-be mourners were turned away, apparently for lack of seating.

On Friday, a presidential aide read a message to the congregation from Obama and the first lady in which they said "as a nation we are deeply moved by your boundless love and your unshakeable resilience."

In the wake of the shootings, officials and businesses nationwide have taken steps to distance themselves from Confederate symbols and name. The suspect, Roof, had appeared in photos with the Confederate flag.

In Texas, the Austin school board voted to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary. The Houston school board voted to rename seven schools named for Confederate leaders. Ohio State Fair officials banned vendors from selling Confederate flag merchandise. In New Jersey, the nation's oldest and largest flag manufacturer decided a week after the shootings to stop making and selling the Confederate flag.


Meg Kinnard contributed to this report from Columbia.