11 Portraits of Charleston Survivors' Grief and Grace
Image: Photos by Jonathan Hanson

Two unfathomable things happened, more quickly than almost anyone could have imagined, one year ago this June.

First, the terror: A young man named Dylann Roof, armed with a .45-caliber handgun, sat through almost an hour of the Wednesday night Bible study at Charleston, South Carolina’s venerable “Mother Emanuel” AME Church. Then he opened fire. Within minutes, nine—Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson—were dead. Five survived. In an instant, wives lost husbands, fathers lost daughters, children lost parents, and a church lost its pastor.

Then, the mercy: Two days later, as the nation simmered with outrage and disbelief, the families of those murdered by Roof were allowed, in accordance with the law for bond hearings, to speak by closed-circuit television to Roof. Television networks carried the feed from both rooms: the room where Roof stood, nearly expressionless, flanked by police; and the room where his victims’ relatives were gathered. One after another, they spoke words of forgiveness even as their voices shook with grief and anger. Perhaps the baldest declaration of forgiveness came from Nadine Collier, daughter of slain member Ethel Lance:

I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. . . . You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.

Of all the evidence in recent years that white supremacy remains imprinted on American life, the shootings were the most indisputable. A white boy had come of age in the 21st century drinking ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this IssueWhen God Is Strange and Awful
When God Is Strange and Awful Subscriber Access Only
Victor Lee Austin was living a Song of Songs life. Then he learned what it’s like to become Job.
RecommendedSouthern Baptists Approve Alternate Resolution Against the Alt-Right
Southern Baptists Approve Alternate Resolution Against the Alt-Right
Confusion over scope and severity of white supremacist movement likely led the SBC to skip initial condemnation.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickFinding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
In my young-adult struggle with sexual identity, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.
Christianity Today
11 Portraits of Charleston Survivors' Grief and Grace
hide this This premium article was unlocked for you by a CT subscriber.
Subscribe now and get every issue.

Spread the love: Use the share icons below to unlock this article for a friend.