Minister Wayne Singleton, 47, of the Emanuel AME Church is still in shock over Wednesday night’s brutal shooting at the house of worship in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I just couldn’t understand why he would walk in and do that and to sit there for a whole hour and then as they were closing to do that,” he tells PEOPLE. “I don’t understand it.”
Dylann Roof, 21, is charged with nine counts of murder for opening fire on the unsuspecting parishioners in what is being called a hate crime.
As the music minister at the historic church, Singleton was familiar with many of those lost. He spoke to PEOPLE about the senseless shootings – and the kind-hearted victims who were allegedly targeted for nothing more than their race.
He remembers Rev. Clementa Pinckney as a “marvelous leader.”
“You probably couldn’t find a more kind and compassionate man,” Singleton says. “I never saw him angry. He always had a calming demeanor.”
He adds: “I’m sure [the night the shooter came in to the Bible study] that the Reverend was the first one to stand up and extend his hand. I’m sure of that. He welcomes people to that church and wanted it to be a beacon light in the city of Charleston. If you could have the doors open, that’s what he wanted to do.”
Rev. Sharonda Singleton, on the other hand, loved sports. “She was a high school track coach and she led the children’s services on Sunday,” Wayne Singleton, who is not related to Sharonda, says. “She was very friendly. She had three children. They’re really a tight knit family.”
Myra Thompson was “compassionate about serving God and the church,” says Wayne. “If you needed her to do something you just asked, she never said no.”
Tywanza Sanders, who tried to convince the shooter to calm down before he was fatally gunned down, was keen on poetry.
“There were a few cases where he recited his poems during the service,” says Wayne. “I remember one was talking about black women being strong, being a pillar for the family.”
Daniel Simmons was one of Wayne’s “longtime buddies.”
“He was very passionate about the AME Church. He was a man of order and never strayed off the path,” says Wayne. But that didn’t mean he took himself too seriously. “He was a character,” Wayne adds fondly. “Very jovial. He ruled with a big stick and he had a soft heart. Once you got through the exterior, you would find that out.”
But it’s Ethel Lance who he describes as his “partner in crime.”
“We had a good relationship,” Wayne says. “She’d often ask me about her favorite song she wanted to hear. It’s called ‘One Day at a Time’ and I actually did it last month and she was overcome with joy when that happened.”
Wayne says he was “speechless” when he found out about the shootings. “I was shocked and numb,” he explains.
Adds his wife Myra Singleton, 46: “Wayne and I sat in almost total silence all day yesterday. There were so many calls and emails and Facebook posts and texts and everything. All of these people were calling Wayne [to check if he was okay]. It was not abnormal for Wayne to be at the church so that was the other part of the experience that night, telling people I’m okay. And who was not okay.”
• Reporting by ALEXANDRA ROCKEY FLEMING
Individuals who want to donate in memory of the victims of the Charleston church massacre are asked to text “prayforcharleston” to 843-606-5995 or donate online at the Palmetto Project.
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