Families of shooting victims focus on "hope" one year later

VIDEO: Families of shooting victims focus on "hope" one year later
Crowds exit the TD Arena following ecumenical service (Source: Live 5)
Crowds exit the TD Arena following ecumenical service (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Many people who came to pay their respects to the nine men and women who lost their lives one year ago at Mother Emanuel AME say there was hope in the air despite the somber day.

Thousands traveled from near and far to take part in the ecumenical service at the TD Arena.

While there were a mix of emotions during the service and outside of the church throughout the day, many spoke about the changes that have been made over the past year and what it means for the future of Charleston.

"[Initially] there was the shock, there was the fear, anger, all of those things, but we've come a long way in our healing process," said Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of Dr. Daniel Simmons.

Several people say it's been a long journey to get to this point, but lessons have been learned along the way.

"People here have embodied hope," said NAACP President/CEO Cornell William Brooks. "They've embodied resilience, they've embodied forgiveness, they've embodied what we need to convey to the rest of the country."

South Carolina lawmakers including Senator Tim Scott, Representative Mark Sanford, and Governor Nikki Haley attended the service.

Local civil rights leaders were also there remembering the lives lost.

"Since that happened I've seen nothing but love and healing in Charleston, and that's what we need here," said Elder James Johnson with the National Action Network.

Local businesses took part in remembering the families of those killed.

Employees with The Flower Cottage places bows on the gates of Mother Emanuel, exactly as they did last year.

"We delivered a ton of flowers to them last year," said Peggy Sirisky, the owner. "We talked to them yesterday and she was thrilled that we were putting them back out. She asked us as we were placing them whether the families could have them after the service. I told them certainly."

The bows were gone by 6 p.m. Friday.

Through all the challenges over the past year, many people said the aftermath of the shooting was a turning point for the state and the country.

"I hope that they can get the feeling of hope and love and inspiration from this, from the strength and the love displayed by the families," Simmons said.

The motto, "love is stronger than hate," was said many times Friday.

The name of the shooter was brought up several times throughout the day, along with the status in his trials.

Brooks said he disagrees with the death penalty charge against the man saying it would create a divide that many in the city are trying to fix.

"We believe life in prison, without the possibility of parole," he added. "[The death penalty] is not morally sufficient punishment because nothing can equate what he did, to what he did, or bring back the lives of those who were lost."

Saturday several more events will honor the lives of the nine people killed as well as the survivors of the shooting.

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