Church massacre in Charleston

Shelby Police escort Dylann Storm Roof, 21, off the premises in Shelby on Thursday.

UNION COUNTY — Local officials reacted with horror Thursday morning to the mass shooting at a historic black church in downtown Charleston Wednesday night that left nine people including the church’s pastor, a member of the SC Senate, dead.

The shooting took place at the Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun St., in Charleston during a Wednesday night worship service. Six women and three men were killed, among them the church’s pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Authorities identified the shooter as Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Eastover who was taken into custody Thursday morning. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said that Roof attended the meeting at the church and stayed for nearly an hour before the shooting began.

Local officials and other community leaders reacted to the mass shooting, among them the members of the Union County Legislative Delegation who spoke about both the shooting and the death of their colleague Sen. Pinckney.

SC House District 42 Rep. Mike Anthony said he was horrified by what had happened, but also spoke of Pinckney who he described as a respected member of the SC General Assembly who he was certain had demonstrated courage in the face of death.

“I’m horrified, it’s just unbelievable this could happen,” Anthony said. “Knowing Sen. Pinckney I know he had no fear. Not only did he represent his district, but he was the pastor of that church and I know he showed no fear.

“He was softspoken in the dealings I had with him,” he said. “He was a communicator and people respected him. He didn’t speak much, but when he did people listened.”

SC Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harvey Peeler, whose district includes part of Union County, said in a statement released on behalf of the South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus that “I and all of my colleagues in the Senate are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Senator Pinckney. He was a talented and well respected Senator who represented the people of his church, his community and his state with great character and a servant’s heart. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, Jennifer, Eliana and Malana, as well as the other victims’ families.”

Ann Stevens, Chairman of the Union County Democratic Party and a member of the Carlisle Town Council, described the situation as tragic and recalled how in her visits to Emanuel AME Church the congregation there had always made her feel welcome.

“I woke up to the news like everybody has and it has been a tragic, tragic event,” Stevens said. “We as AME Zion worship as a church family and we worshipped with them when we had our conferences on the Charleston end. They always made their facilities available to us and were always welcoming.”

Stevens pointed out that she’d been at Trident Tech in Charleston on Wednesday not far from the church to attend a speech by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just hours before the shooting took place. She called on everyone to come together in prayer and pray for healing of the sick minds comtemplating committing such terrible crimes.

“Everybody just needs to come together in prayer,” Stevens said. “We need to pray for the healing of the sick minds that are out there in the nation as a whole.”

Union County Republican Party Chairman Mike Fowler expressed disbelief at how anyone could commit such a monstrous act, especially in a church.

“It’s a terrible tragedy,” Fowler said. “It’s such a heinous act to take place in a church. I’m just speechless at how somebody could hatch such a plot and then follow through with it. We’ll be praying for the families of the victims.”