WINNSBORO — Fairfield County residents gathered Wednesday in Fortune Spring Park for a vigil to honor the nine people killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
“We are here to show our condolences, to show our sympathies,” said John Smalls, who facilitated the event.
The overwhelming message of the vigil was one of unity and shared compassion in the face of tragedy.
“The greatest joy I saw in this, is all denominations dropped their title and came together as one,” said Bishop Theotis White, who spoke at the vigil.
Apostle Carolyn Harris included concurrent sentiments in her welcoming remarks.
“If you are a part of the Kingdom, you are our brother, our sister, and the Kingdom has no boundaries,” Harris said.
Pastor Leonard Simmons delivered the vigil’s opening prayer, and shared a personal connection to the shooting.
“Some of my colleagues were involved in this incident,” Simmons said. “Our hearts go out to them.”
Elected officials were present, as well as clergy.
Fairfield County Council Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson spoke to the members of the county, who knew the deceased.
“Each one of you have memories,” Robinson said. “You have love, you have friendship that is built on those memories.”
Robinson encouraged those in attendance to treasure these memories. She also mentioned that in times of crisis, it is imperative people support one another.
Other speakers reiterated the idea of fostering compassion, humanity and positivity in the face of loss.
Pastor Frank Copeland, who read scripture at the vigil, said love conquers all, and Pastor Jonathan Bell delivered a prayer.
Fairfield County Council Vice Chairman Kamau Marcharia recalled working with the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney on a campaign.
“He (Pinckney) was 23 or 24 years old,” Marcharia said.
Marcharia said many in the community may have known the Rev. Daniel Simmons, who died in the shooting, as he was a pastor in Winnsboro for several years.
“We’re here to pay respect, condolences to Mother Emanuel AME Church,” Marcharia said.
This included a ceremonial lighting of nine candles and the blowing of the shofar by Roberta Gay.
“I blew nine times for each one of them,” Gay said. “The blowing of the shofar is a sign of peace.”
Marcharia echoed other speakers’ sentiments of unity. “We have got to close the gap of hatred in this country,” Marcharia said.
Marcharia said in the wake of the shootings it was important to consider what motivated the church shooting suspect to take nine lives, comparing suspect Dylann Roof to Frankenstein’s monster.
“Who or what created a young man who could have so much hatred?” Marcharia asked.
This rhetorical question was later answered by Mike Fanning, who spoke at the vigil.
“Let us acknowledge today, we, the people of South Carolina, created this monster,” Fanning said, adding it could be attributed primarily to racism and guns.
He voiced disagreement with portrayal of the violence perpetrated in a Charleston church as inconceivable, because mass shootings have grown in profile in recent years.
“It is not incomprehensible in the least,” Fanning said.
Fanning reiterated his opinion that guns and racism, which he called a 200-year-old problem in the state, were the root cause of the problem.
“Uniting is sorrow without dealing with the root causes of what happened will do absolutely nothing for the families in Charleston to prevent this from happening again,” Fanning said. “If we don’t acknowledge the root causes of what has happened, and we don’t take the steps to fix it, we’re doing a disservice to the memories of the slain and to our very own future.”
Fanning was also one of several speakers to vocally support the removal of the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse.
State Sen. Creighton Coleman, who spoke at the event, said he was among the four legislators who have introduced a bill to remove the flag from the Statehouse.
“I feel sure we do have the two-thirds majority to take it down,” Coleman said.
Coleman, as did many of the speakers, urged those in attendance to foster the spirit of togetherness prompted by tragedy and to continue to strive for betterment.
“We need to keep doing what we’re doing, work hard,” Coleman said. “Work is never finished, so keep pushing.”