June 19, 2015

Remembering the victims of the South Carolina church shooting

One victim, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was a Newark, N.J. native

The victims of Wednesday's mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, were bonded in life by their faith and their close links to the historic African-American church where they worshipped, studied the Bible, and were killed.

The six women, one a Newark native, and three men fatally shot at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church included a high school track and field coach, a studious Dallas Cowboys fan, a dedicated librarian and a state senator and preacher whose voice commanded respect.

They opened up their Bible study class to a young white man who police later named as the suspect in their murders. Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, about 220 miles away, on Thursday.

Clementa Pinckney, 41, senior pastor at Emanuel and a Democratic member of the state senate, was the most prominent victim. Pinckney grew up in Jasper County, South Carolina, began preaching at age 13 and became a pastor five years later. 

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Clementa Pinckney (Randall Hill/Reuters)

With his tall stature and booming voice, he motivated and educated his congregation, colleagues said. 

"He had a very, very strong impact on this congregation and in this community," said James Gilliard, acting steward at Campbell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Pinckney served as pastor from 2009 to 2010. 

Pinckney had two daughters with his wife, Jennifer. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in business administration from Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, where he served as class president. 

Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74, who also worked at Emanuel, was the only victim who died at a local hospital rather than in the church. Simmons' father was a pastor for 50 years and his mother was a member of the women's Sunday school, according to an online obituary. He had three brothers.

Reverend Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45, was also killed, said officials with Charleston Southern University, where Singleton's son, Chris Singleton, is a student. She was also a member of Emanuel's ministerial staff. 

Singleton, who lived in Summerville, South Carolina, was a speech language pathologist at Goose Creek High School, where she coached the girls' track and field team. According to her Facebook page, Singleton grew up in Newark, N.J. and graduated from Vailsburg High School in 1987. She attended Montclair State University.

Chris Singleton, who has a younger brother and sister, posted a photo of his mother and Pinckney to Instagram on Thursday morning. 

"It’s funny how I always told you that you went to church too much," he wrote in the post. "You would laugh it off and say, 'Boy you can never have too much of the Lord.'" 

Newark-based People's Organization for Progress will hold a vigil and march for Singleton and the other victims of the shooting at the Lincoln Monument in Newark Friday at 4:30 p.m.

'WARM AND HELPFUL SPIRIT'

A second Allen University alumnus was killed in Wednesday's shooting. Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 graduate who like Pinckney had a business degree, was a quiet but popular student who was dedicated to his education. "He presented a warm and helpful spirit," the university said in a statement. 

On his Facebook page, Sanders said he was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the Charleston RiverDogs minor league baseball team. He is shown in his profile photograph smiling and looking relaxed against the backdrop of a message that read, "Your dreams are calling you."

Reverend DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, was killed while teaching Emanuel's weekly Bible study class, said Dean Grile, who was Doctor's supervisor at her job in the admissions office of Southern Wesleyan University, a Christian school in Central, South Carolina.

Doctor, a single mother of four daughters aged 10 to 22, was adored at her workplace. "She was able to empathize with people," Grile said. "Students just love her."

Cynthia Hurd, a 54-year-old library manager, was also killed, according to a statement from the Charleston County Public Library, where Hurd had worked for 31 years. 

Hurd was the sister of Malcolm Graham, a former North Carolina state senator and former Charlotte City Council member. 

Graham and his siblings grew up attending the church in which his sister died, he told local media.  

Ethel Lee Lance, 70, who had worked at the church for more than 30 years, was also killed in the shooting.

"Granny was the heart of the family," her grandson Jon Quil Lance told The Post and Courier outside Medical University Hospital. “She’s a Christian, hardworking; I could call my granny for anything. I don’t have anyone else like that."

Myra Thompson, 59, has a daughter who is a part of the Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta, WXIA reports.

“We’re just in prayer and just in shock to everyone as they were adjusting to the news this morning,” the church’s pastor, Rev. John Foster, told WXIA.

Susie Jackson, 87, was the oldest victim of the shooting. 

“She was a loving person, she never had no animosity toward nobody,” her son Walter Jackson told The Post and Courier.

PhillyVoice writer Christina LoBrutto contributed to this report.