CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Gov. Nikki Haley and others remembered the victims of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting on June 17, 2015, as hundreds gathered to honor the victims and survivors and think about the future.
"We spoke with the investigators, we saw how brutal it was, and I hurt for the people of South Carolina, because I knew that when they found out the details that I knew, that the heart and soul of our state would be broken. And I didn't know how we were going to recover from that," Haley said of the immediate aftermath of the shooting. "But I knew we were people of faith. I knew we were a people of prayer. I knew we were a people of strength. And I knew that we would get through this."
Haley was one of several local, state and federal leaders who spoke or sent messages to be read at a remembrance service for Mother Emanuel AME Church at the TD Arena at 10 a.m. Friday.
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Presiding Elder the Rev. Norvel Goff, Sr., who also served as interim pastor after State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel's pastor, died in the shooting, served as the worship leader for the service, which was expected to last more than two hours.
Early on, Goff prompted applause from the crowd of hundreds when he asked, "How many of you believe love is stronger than hate?"
In a message read by one of his assistants, President Barack Obama said the victims are in their thoughts and prayers.
"As the struggle continues, know we are all part of a collective family that yearns to heal with you," Obama said via the message. He also referenced to Charleston's reaction to the shooting in a mention of Sunday's mass shooting in Florida: "We look to Mother Emanuel for inspiration after tragedy in Orlando."
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg read the names of the victims, describing them as "nine beautiful souls."
"They were our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our friends and fellow citizens," he said. "They loved their lives. They loved their families. And they loved their friends. They loved God. And because of the ancient, unreasoning evil of racial hatred, they were crucially stolen from us one year ago today, by a soul-sick young man."
He also spoke about the community's reaction to the shooting.
"That the families could find the strength to forgive him in the days that followed was an eloquent testament to the beauty of God's amazing grace," Tecklenburg said. "That our humble city could find itself uplifted and transformed by the power of their example was nothing less than a miracle in this modern world."
Tecklenburg called for a deeper commitment to move forward.
"We must attack injustice and racism wherever it exists," he said.
He also called for the removal of assault weapons.
"You know, they didn't have assault weapons 3,000 years ago," Tecklenburg said. "And can't we at least remove the availability of assault weapons to those who have broken the law, those who have mental issues? Can't we at least complete reasonable background checks for folks before they can purchase these kinds of weapons?"
Sen. Marlon Kimpson followed the mayor, contrasting society's accomplishments with the things it has still not been able to overcome.
"We've mastered the air and conquered the sea, annihilated distance and prolonged life," he said. "But we're not fit to live on this earth without war and hate and racism and gun violence. As we reflect on this day, let us remember that Mother Emanuel is our sanctuary, a sanctuary for the devout, who through fire, vandalism, earthquake, hurricane and war, sacrificed to maintain an ordinate tabernacle for the glory of God. And there was no man better qualified to speak from the same pulpit that the Rev. Martin Luther King once spoke than my colleague and friend, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney."
Kimpson said it was in that same sanctuary that God "took the hands" of Pinckney and the other eight victims and "gave them their reward for a lifetime of service to His glory."
"So when evil walks inside our sanctuary, takes a seat and listens to the Word of God, and then proceeds to violently violate our refuge, one might ask the question, 'Where is God?'" he said. "Well, Mother Emanuel itself is the answer to the question for the word 'Emanuel' is Hebrew for 'God is with us.' So where is God? God is Emanuel. God is with us. And God was there with those who were killed, holding their hands and whispering into their ears at their last transition, from God's earthly sanctuary to the great sanctuary above. God was there and so was the spirit of the Emanuel 9 and the survivors when the General Assembly removed a symbol that had polarized this state for decades, and this governor signed that bill that we passed that removed the Confederate flag from in front of the statehouse. And God will be there when evil is brought to justice for violating our sanctuary."
Kimpson said God expects everyone to go to work, citing James 2:14 which reads, ""What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?" He called on legislators across the country to address gun reform.
Sen. Tim Scott said he believes the accused gunman did "the wrong research."
"Wrong church, wrong people, wrong day," Scott said. "You see, if you know the history of Mother Emanuel, you know it was the wrong church. My uncle for more than 50 years was a member of Mother Emanuel. And had he learned of the history of Mother Emanuel, anyone walking in the doors knows Mother Emanuel rises from the ashes. It rises stronger than before. It doesn't just rebuild the church, it rebuilds the community. Wrong church. We also know 'wrong people.' A people filled with God's love are unstoppable without any question. God's people always rises to the occasion. Wrong people. And the wrong day. Walking into the church of God on a Wednesday, in the middle of a Bible study. Wrong day."
Scott said he learned the meaning of faith as he watched the nine families do what most still believe is impossible.
"In 36 hours, one after one after one said, 'I forgive you,'" Scott said. He said the families leaned into their faith and all they had been taught and forgave.
Scott said the kind of all-consuming, unconditional love the victims' families had transcended hate and race and everything brought the community forward.
"We had a 54-year fight over the Confederate flag, but this kind of love solved it in 23 days," he said. "Let us remember, let us stand strong, let us stand together."
Haley recalled after learning of the shooting that she called State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church, and left him a voicemail promising her support, unaware he was one of the victims of the shooting and would never receive that voicemail.
She held up photos and funeral programs from the services of the nine victims, adding she keeps them in a drawer next to her bed as a reminder of the goodness of people, the faith she strives to have, the love of God they had, what happened in that room and what was going on in their minds at the time it happened.
"What you need to know about these 12 people is as they preached the Word of God, as they talked about Mark Chapter 4, during that hour, the murderer, for a few moments, changed," Haley said. "He suddenly said that he thought about not doing it. This man who had spent months getting ready to do a hate crime, those 12 people in that room changed him for a few moments because was taken by their love and their kindness and the Word of God. Think about that. Those 12 people changed that murderer, if only for a moment. It was that powerful."
Dylann Roof, who faces state and federal charges in the killings, has not yet been tried or convicted.
"There were three other people in that Bible study," Haley said. "And it will always be the Emanuel 12 to me, not the Emanuel 9."
Haley encouraged the audience not to forget the names of the victims.
"The Mother Emanuel 12 that we will always talk about, I don't want it to only be on an anniversary," she said. "I will always talk about it, whether I'm in state or out of state. I will always talk about these people who changed my life and I will forever be grateful."
The Right Rev. Richard Franklin Norris criticized the reaction lawmakers gave Congressman Jim Clyburn on Tuesday when Clyburn attempted to speak in the House Chambers about the need of gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
"I acknowledge the Second Amendment, but I was appalled by the way he was treated by the leadership of that House," Norris said. "And I would be wrong as a prophetic voice not to say a word about that, because when we remain silent in the midst of ignorance, we do God a disservice."
Norris said he applauds Clyburn for trying to get the House members to talk and think about the role guns are playing in our society.
Earlier in the service, a statement from Clyburn about gun control was read at the service.
Security was said to be extremely tight for the service. Everyone who attended was required to have a ticket and was prohibited from bringing backpacks or large purses.
Hymns have included "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow," "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and "The Old Ship of Zion."
Speakers included pastors from churches across the Lowcountry.