Victims of Charleston church shooting honored in Unity Walk

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The victims of the massacre at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church were honored Saturday on the second anniversary of the killings.

The "Hate Won't Win Unity Walk" in downtown Charleston began at 9:30 a.m. on King and Calhoun Streets, continued past the church and ended on the lawn of the Gaillard Center.

The walk, which organizers said was designed to bring people of all races, religions, and backgrounds to "contest hate and spread love across the world," honored the nine parishioners of the church who were killed after a Wednesday night Bible study at the church on June 17, 2015.

The message of the march, "Hate won't win," could be seen on signs and heard from family and friends of the victims and survivors.

Ashland Temoney lost her aunt, the Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor.

"It was very meaningful today for us to come together and just show the city and the world that hate did not win," she said. "It was meaningful to walk on this street where they last took their steps."

For her, each step was filled with emotion.

"Every year it feels like it is happening all over again. It's like an open wound that continues to pour out."

The route spanned roughly two blocks, taking people past Mother Emanuel, where church bells tolled.

It was a small journey with a lasting impact.

Where the walk ended, a celebration of life began.

"What's happening here is a triumph of the human spirit," walk participant Susan Defreitas said.

"It's really good to see everybody come together who are not our families," Temoney said. "To know that we are still getting that love and support from everyone around us."

The victims of the massacre included the church's pastor, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Several of the victims were also ministers at the church, including Rev. Sharonda Singleton, retired pastor Dr. Daniel Simmons,  and Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  The other victims were Ethel Lance, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, and Tywanza Sanders.

Saturday morning's walk was part of a series of "Light of Hope" events, hosted in part by Mother Emanuel AME Church, which started Thursday and will run through June 30.

The walk will bring people of all races, religions, and backgrounds to "contest hate and spread love across the world."

An Ecumenical Worship Service followed the walk at the Gaillard Center from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. This worship service was open to the public.

The walk was conceived out of the global response to the reaction of the city of Charleston and the families of the shooting victims in the days following the killings. The movement began as a social media hashtag during the bond hearing for convicted church shooter Dylann Roof.

Alana Simmons, granddaughter of Emanuel 9 victim the Rev. Daniel Simmons, made a statement during that court hearing.

"I said to him that although my grandfather died at the hands of hate, he lived in love and he preached in love, so hate won't win," Simmons said in 2016.

By the time the family got out of the courtroom, the #HateWontWin hashtag was already trending globally, she said, prompting her to create a call to action.

"So we challenged the world to go out and show an act of love to someone who was different, different race, religion, orientation, generation and so on and so forth, and post that to social media accounts with the hashtag #HateWon'tWin." Simmons said of the walk's creation.

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