Widow of Mother Emanuel pastor: ‘Much prayer is needed’ four years after attack

Religion News Service | 5/10/2019, 6 a.m.
Jennifer Pinckney had hoped to be in Bible study on the evening of June 17, 2015. But her 6-year-old daughter ...
Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Jennifer Pinckney had hoped to be in Bible study on the evening of June 17, 2015.

But her 6-year-old daughter had other plans.

The two were in the senior pastor’s office at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., on the night that Dylann Roof opened fire during the church’s Wednesday night Bible study, killing nine people. Among the victims was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor, a member of the South Carolina state senate and Jennifer Pinckney’s husband.

She and her daughter heard the shots, barricaded the door and hid under a desk in a secretary’s office, according to her testimony during the penalty phase of Mr. Roof’s trial.

“Be quiet. Don’t say anything,” she told her daughter.

The two survived.

Mr. Roof eventually was sentenced to death.

In the years since the attack at Mother Emanuel, Mrs. Pinckney has worked hard to pick up the pieces and to give her daughters a sense of a normal life. She was recently in Atlanta, where her daughters were taking part in a dance competition, and sat down for an interview with Religion News Service.

Q: It has been almost four years since the tragic events of the Charleston shooting. Can you take us back to the day it happened and what you experienced?

A: In the beginning, you’re in denial. You don’t always register when things happen, especially as traumatic as the Charleston shooting. You just kind of think to yourself, ‘Did this happen to me?’

To be honest, at first, I was a little in denial that it really happened at all. I can tell you that I immediately went into mom mode to protect and be there for my two girls, which was and still is my first priority. I can remember getting home that night and seeing police cars everywhere in our yard and allowing my girls to briefly look out the window as I tried to explain to them the reality of what had happened.

Q: How are you and the kids doing?

A: We have our good and bad days. We are living in Columat no matter how busy he got, the girls and I came first. He would always take time for us. Clementa would hear everyone’s point of view. Many of his colleagues called him one of the most peaceful people that they knew.

Q: How have you handled the pressure of being in the public eye?bia, S.C. I’m adjusting to being a single parent, and the girls are doing well in school and enjoying participating in dance competitions, which they have been involved in since they were little girls.

Q: When did it become real to you that your husband was gone?

A: Because he traveled a lot, it was easy for me to think that he would be coming home. So at first, it was like he was gone on a trip. It wasn’t until they brought his car home that it became real to me. I can remember sitting in his car and crying. That’s when it became real for me. There have been other moments, but I can remember that one vividly.