Charleston Church Shooting Victims Ranged from Pastors to Politician to Girls' Track Team Coach
Eight of the victims of accused shooter Dylann Storm Roof, 21, died at the scene; ninth died at the hospital, coroner says
The nine people whose lives were lost in Wednesday night’s shooting by a young white man at an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, are being mourned and celebrated across the country.
One was a state senator whom President Obama said he personally knew, another was a teacher, another a librarian.
Their names were released by Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten, who said she wanted to believe it was a prank upon first hearing about the tragedy from a deputy. “The tone said to me this was real,” she said in a news conference Thursday. “Immediately my heart started to sink.”
“I knew,” she said, “this was going to mean a forever impact on many, many people.”
Victim Cynthia Hurd, 54, was a librarian; Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, was the church pastor and a state senator; Tywanza Sanders, 26, a recent graduate of Allen University; teacher Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, was also a minister at the church; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and Myra Thompson, 59.
Eight of the nine died from gunshot wounds at the scene; the ninth died later in the hospital following the attack that occurred during a Bible study class inside the Emanuel AME Church. Alleged shooter Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested three hours away on Thursday morning after an overnight manhunt.
Hurd, of Charleston, “was a beautiful person,” her brother Malcolm Graham, a North Carolina former state senator and Charlotte city council member, tells PEOPLE. “Very family oriented, just a good person.” Hurd was a librarian who worked for 31 years at the Charleston Public Library, where she served as a branch manager at two facilities.
The Charleston library, which closed Thursday in honor of Hurd and the other victims, said in a statement: “Cynthia was a tireless servant of the community who spent her life helping residents, making sure they had every opportunity for an education and personal growth.”
Pinckney, the church pastor and a state senator, led “an extraordinary life in many ways,” his friend, colleague and former teacher, Mark Thompkins, now a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, tells PEOPLE.
“Obviously on some level he was ambitious for having run for the legislature at 23 years old and run for the state Senate, but in many ways [he was] not ambitious in the way that we associate with politicians today,” he says. “The key is that it was a life of service.”
“You always had a sense of genuineness in talking with him, and you always had a sense that he cared about doing the right thing,” Thompkins says. “It’s an enormous loss.”
Sanders was a 2014 graduate of the Division of Business Administration at the historically black Allen University, a Christian liberal arts college in Columbia, South Carolina. “He was a quiet, well known student who was committed to his education,” the university said in a statement. “He presented a warm and helpful spirit as he interacted with his colleagues. Mr. Sanders was participating in the Bible Study session at Mother Emanuel church at the time of the shooting.”
Coleman-Singleton, 45, was on the ministerial staff at Mother Emmanuel, but also worked as a speech pathology teacher and head coach of the girls track team at Goose Creek High School. “She was wonderful,” a friend and school co-worker tells PEOPLE. “She’s going to be missed greatly. She was a great mother to her children. She was such an advocate of the children here.”
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In an Instagram post, her son Chris, a baseball player at Charleston Southern University, wrote, “It’s funny how I always told you that you went to church too much. You would laugh it off and say, ‘Boy you can never have too much of the Lord.’ You were a better mother than I could have ever asked for. This has truly broken my heart in every way possible, but I know I have to stay strong for my little brother and sister.”
“I thank everyone for your prayers and thoughts,” he added, “but I’m positive this strong woman is in a better place now.”
President Obama and his wife, Michelle, knew several members of the church, including Pinckney. Thousands of miles away in Italy, the First Lady and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, lit candles in Milan’s Duomo cathedral on Thursday in memory of the shooting victims.
“To say our thoughts and prayers are with them doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache, the sadness and the anger that we feel,” the President said in a statement Thursday.
Reporting by HILARY SHENFELD and MARIA CODER
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