Charleston mourns the death of nine slain at church
CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Thousands of mourners gathered across Charleston on Friday to pay their final respects to Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine people fatally shot in the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer session last week.
President Obama delivered the eulogy Friday to honor Pinckney’s life and influence as a beloved church leader and state legislator who offered his life to public service since he was first elected to the South Carolina state legislature at the age of 23.
“We are here today to remember a man of god who lived by faith. A man who believed in things not seen. A man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance,” Obama said. “What a life Clementa Pinckney lived, an example that he set. A model for his faith.”
Obama praised Pinckney’s strive to help the under-served, and struck a personal tone, having met the pastor years ago.
“The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor,” Obama said. “Wise beyond his years in his speech, his conduct in his love, faith and purity.”
Mourners started gathering for the service here long before dawn, with crowds soon swelling to the thousands outside the TD Arena in downtown Charleston. It didn’t take long for the 5,200-person arena to reach full capacity, leaving thousands to tune in at spillover spaces throughout the city.
Friends, former colleagues and religious leaders spoke for the hours-long service, sharing stories of Pinckney’s big heart and gentle voice. First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in attendance, as well as former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined the president on Air Force One to attend the service, including House Speaker John Boehner and Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Lewis.
A program for the service was lined with photos of Pinckney and his loved ones, including heartfelt messages from his family. “I know you were shot at the Church and you went to Heaven. I love you so much!” Pinchney’s daughter Malana wrote, signing the note, “Love your baby girl and grasshopper.”
Earlier in the day, supporters and congregants from across state lines convened at the historic black church, commonly referred to as Mother Emanuel, to watch the procession as a hearse carried Pinckney’s body away. Pinckney, a 41-year-old father of two, was named pastor of the church in 2010.
A day earlier, the funerals for two other victims in last week’s massacre were held in Charleston. Ethal Lance, a 70-year-old church custodian, and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a minister and high school track coach, were laid to rest.