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A year later, Charleston families still reeling from church shooting



Many were surprised when Nadine Collier stood in a South Carolina courtroom a year ago and said she forgave the young white man who had just killed her mother and eight other black churchgoers in a racially motivated attack.

Collier’s sister, the Reverend Sharon Risher, recalls wondering how she could so readily absolve Dylann Roof, 22, the man accused of opening fire during a Bible study on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Ahead of the first anniversary on Friday, Risher and some others affected by the killings still cannot bring themselves to forgive. Roof will go on trial in November on federal hate crime charges that could result in a death sentence before facing state murder charges in January.

“I’m not bitter,” Risher, 57, said in a phone interview. “But I’m just not ready to forgive you if you don’t even act like you want to be forgiven.”

One year after that attack, the nation is again reeling from gun violence. The deaths of 49 people in Orlando this week in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history has left dozens more families blindsided by tragedy.


There will be no criminal proceedings for the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, who died in a gunfight with police. And while the shooting inside the historic church led to the removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol, it remains to be seen whether the latest massacre will spur change.

Away from the spotlight, the stories of those personally touched by the violence in Charleston illustrate its lasting impact. It continues to affect their lives, they said, straining family relationships, shifting career paths and leaving voids in their lives that no form of justice can fill.

Risher left her emergency room chaplain job in Dallas this spring, finding its emotional demands to be too much as she grieves her mother, Ethel Lance.


Some members of her family have become estranged in the aftermath of the shooting, she said, as each person mourns differently and struggles to make sense of what happened.

Risher longs for the days when she used to lie in her mother’s king-sized bed and they talked until one of them fell asleep.

“Charleston does not hold the same magic for me anymore,” she said. “Now going back, it’s just a cloud that hangs over. Even though the sun is shining, to me I see the gray.”



The Reverend Anthony Thompson’s wife, Myra, was killed in the attack, but he said he began to heal when he offered forgiveness to Roof at the bond hearing two days after the shooting.

Thompson, 65, has not attended subsequent hearings, choosing instead to focus on his preaching and new work advocating against gun violence.


“Dylann is not a part of my life or the life of my children,” he said. “That’s why we forgave him so that we can move on. We’re through with him.”

Alana Simmons, 26, lost her grandfather, the Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., in the shooting and her professional life changed course after that. The middle school music teacher moved from Virginia to South Carolina to run the Hate Won’t Win Movement, a non-profit organization that advocates for unity in a diverse society.

Focusing on the good to come from the tragedy helps her cope, she said.


“I don’t think that I could harbor hate in my heart and then go out and preach love,” she said.

Arthur Hurd, 46, remains angry. Angry at the church for keeping some of the more than $3 million in donations it received rather than distributing it all to the survivors and victims’ families. Angry that whether or not Roof gets the death penalty, it will not bring Hurd’s wife, Cynthia, back.

He has not returned to his job as a merchant mariner since her death. A grief counselor told him he is not ready, Hurd said.


“The only way I can jump for joy for the death penalty is if I am the one pulling the switch,” he said. “I have a hole in my chest, in my heart and my soul big enough that you could ride a freight train through it.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott)

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WATCH: Civil rights icon John Lewis drops the hammer on Trump — and has no qualms about calling his remarks racist



On Tuesday, the fallout continued from remarks President Trump made telling four freshman congresswomen -- and women of color -- that they should go back to their own countries.

While some prominent Republicans criticized the president, they stopped short of calling his comments racist.

MSNBC reported Tuesday that Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) -- a civil rights icon -- deemed Trump's remarks racist.

"This is not any, any way for the president of the United States of America to be attacking to be saying what he's saying about these young women," Lewis said.

"It's just dead wrong. We must use everything in a nonviolent way to say that it's wrong."

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Trump believes white nationalism is a winning strategy — because Fox News tells him so



Donald Trump thinks white nationalism is going to win him the 2020 election. This much is clear. Trump's racist Twitter rant on Sunday — in which he suggested that four nonwhite congresswomen, three of whom were born in the United States, are "originally" from somewhere else and should therefore "go back" — might have seemed at first like a spontaneous eruption of racist rage from the simmering bigot in the White House.

Soon, however, it became clear that this was strategic. Trump thinks it's a winning move to echo the claims of David Duke and other white nationalists who believe the United States is for white people. He justified his racism by saying that "many people agree with me," and by continuing to rave on Twitter about how the real purveyors of "racist hatred" are those who look askance at his embracing the rhetoric of Stormfront and the KKK.

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‘White supremacy is a hell of a drug’: columnist explains the GOP’s garbled response to Trump



On Tuesday, President Donald Trump addressed comments he'd made telling four freshman congresswomen -- all American citizens and women of color -- to go back to their countries.

The comments set off a furor that the president was being outwardly racist.

“It's up to them. They can do what they want. They can leave, they can stay, but they should love our country,” the president told reporters Tuesday when he was asked about his remarks.

On CNN Tuesday, New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali explained how Donald Trump's comments -- and his Republican counterparts' refusal to call them racist -- is rooted in a dangerous white supremacy, or terror at the "browning of America."

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