The story is familiar to most of us now. A young man from Lexington, S.C. visited the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun St. and attended a Bible study one Wednesday evening in June. It was Myra Thompson’s first time leading the regular Bible study group. Afterwards, the young man quietly stood, drew his gun, announced his intentions, and shot ten of the twelve church members gathered that evening.
Eight died at the church immediately: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Ethel Lance, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, and Depayne Middleton Doctor. Two were taken to the hospital, where Rev. Daniel Simmons perished and Felicia Sanders survived the bullets lodged in her leg. The shooter, Dylann Roof, spared two of those attending the Bible study, Polly Sheppard and Felicia’s eleven-year-old granddaughter, whom Felicia told to “play dead” and protected with her own body. Felicia also told her son, Tywanza, to stay still, but he didn’t. With a bullet in his head, he crawled toward his great-aunt, Susie Jackson, to protect her, but it was too late for both of them.
The shooter told Polly Sheppard that she would be unharmed, so that she could tell the story.
Polly and Felicia had just witnessed the cold murder of Felicia’s son, Tywanza; her aunt, Susie Jackson; their minister, Rev. Pinckney, and five of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Rev. Daniel Simmons was still alive, but mortally injured.
The Emanuel Nine plus three survivors: The Emanuel Twelve. Twelve souls in God’s loving hands.
As the names of the deceased nine were announced, no more was mentioned of the tenth victim taken to the hospital or the other two unharmed at the Bible study meeting. Their anonymous identities seemed to be kept from the public, presumably to protect their privacy.
Many locals thought of them often, but respected their wishes to have their identities protected. They thought for sure the media wanted to talk to them as much as possible, but that their families and friends were protecting them to give them time to mourn and recover in peace.
Recent news reports share that the survivors feel forgotten. Memorials and fundraisers in memory of the Emanuel Nine have preserved the names of those who perished.
These three survivors are not forgotten. Several people I know conscientiously have prayed and inquired about them, respecting their privacy, but also expressing concern.
Survivors of a tragedy often feel at a loss, guilty even. Soldiers returning from war, plane crash survivors, natural disaster survivors, for example, experience the same feelings of surrealism. They experience relief that they survived. They experience guilt that they survived. Reality for them isn’t the same. The mind takes time to absorb the new reality and let the emotions heal in proper time. If you can, let them know that they are not forgotten, and that many people are thinking of and praying for them.
Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard are living examples of the power of faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. They preach the Gospel everyday, living out their faith, loving their neighbor, expressing divinely inspired forgiveness.
They embody Sen. Tim Scott’s message at Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church this past Sunday, quoting St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”