Gov. Nikki Haley took time Friday to honor not just those who died in the Emanuel AME Church shootings — but the three survivors and the victims’ families, as well.
The governor was among AME church and state political leaders who gathered at the TD Arena on the College of Charleston campus Friday to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the massacre the took the lives of nine parishioners.
During the memorial, Haley said she wanted to honor the “Emanuel 12,” which besides the nine victims includes Felecia Sanders and her 11-year-old granddaughter who survived by playing dead and 70-year-old Polly Sheppard, who said she survived only because the accused shooter Dylann Roof wanted a witness.
“Anniversaries don’t mean anything to them. They’re living this each and every day,” Haley said. “It is our job as a people to prove to them that June 17 was not in vain. And that we will forever take the lives of these nine and the survivors of those three and live to be better people and be kinder than necessary as we move forward in our lives.”
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Congressman Mark Sanford and several hundred other dignitaries, family, friends and survivors of the June 17, 2015 shooting gathered to hear songs of inspiration as well as emotional speeches to mark the solemn occasion.
Haley took time to individually honor each of those murdered last year by holding up memorials from each funeral she attended. The governor said each of the black victims had welcomed Roof into their Bible study even though he was an outsider. “I’ve always been amazed by this,” she said. “Because they didn’t call security. They didn’t throw him out. They did exactly what every one of us should do when someone different comes up to us: they pulled up a chair and they prayed with him for an hour.”
Some speakers, such as Tecklenburg and State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat whose district includes the church, used their speeches to push for tighter gun purchasing laws. Specifically they sought to end what has become known as the “Charleston loophole” they say allowed Roof to improperly purchase the gun he ended up using in the attack. Specifically, the “loophole” allows a gun buyer to take ownership of the weapon after a the maximum three-day waiting period for a background check expires without any decision from the FBI.
“Dylann Roof was not part of ISIS. He was a homegrown terrorist filled with hate right here in South Carolina,” Kimpson said. “What sense does it make to have a background check law if the background check does not have to be complete before the gun is sold?”
Kimpson had pushed legislation that would not allow sales until the background check was complete. But his bill never got a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate due to Republican concerns that it could hold up legal gun sales due to paperwork backlogs or technicalities. It’s also not clear if closing the loophole would have prevented the purchase, since the FBI has said Roof’s admission of drug use (which should have blocked a sale) was improperly entered into the system.
AME church leaders also spoke on how the Charleston community has been able to maintain its faith in despite an act of unprecedented evil, led by the example of family members forgiving Roof at his bond hearing just two days after the hearing.
“I feel good about where we are,” Seventh Prelate Bishop Richard Norris said. “It was meant for evil, but God turned it into good.”