Sharry Schuller of Charleston give out free hugs to anyone who wants one while visiting the memorial in front of the Emanuel AME Church, June 20, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Stephen B. Morton/AP

Hugging as healing in Charleston

In the wake of a horrific tragedy sparked by hate, the Charleston community is gathering to show each other some love. 

The weekend after the massacre at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where nine lives were taken during a Wednesday evening Bible study, members of the community were taking action by giving out free hugs to the public. 

On Saturday, NBC News’ Jacquelyn Marrero caught up with two girls who were standing at the memorial site of the shooting with cardboard signs advertising “Free Hugs.” 

The girls explained how they were strangers prior to offering people free hugs. One saw the other holding up a sign and decided that she wanted to participate, too. 

“It’s a good way to come together and unite as one,” one of the girls said about the hugs. 

On Sunday, thousands marched in a unity chain across Charleston’s main bridge, hours after the church opened its doors for its first service after the shooting. 

At that event, hugging was also used to bring about healing for the community. A tender moment was captured between Parker Nettles, a white 3-year-old boy who was participating in the “Charleston United” gathering, and Taylor Willis, a black woman offering free hugs, TODAY.com reported.

The father of the boy, John Nettles, told TODAY.com that the moment was especially moving for him. 

“To [Parker], it’s just a hug. He doesn’t understand that he’s hugging a black woman and that he’s a white boy,” Nettles said. “He doesn’t understand that just last week there was another white boy who decided to murder several black people — just because they’re black. To him, it’s just a hug with another person. It’s probably the most beautiful hug I’ve ever witnessed.”

Charleston Church Shooting and South Carolina

Hugging as healing in Charleston