The pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church "cared a lot about people," says James Johnson

By Elaine Aradillas and Maria Coder
Updated June 18, 2015 11:30 AM
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The prominent South Carolina state senator identified as one of the nine killed in Wednesday night’s mass shooting at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, was a hugely influential man in his community, Elder James Johnson, president of the National Action Network’s local chapter, tells PEOPLE.

Clementa Pinckney, 41, who served as the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was killed when 21-year-old alleged gunman Dylann Storm Roof opened fire during Bible study.

“He was a very religious man,” says Johnson. “He cared a whole lot about people. He always wanted to correct wrong.”

Pinckney was a major force in the spiritual community. He answered the call to preach at the age of 13 and received his first appointment to pastor at the age of 18, according to the church’s website.

At the age of 23, he was the youngest African-American in South Carolina to be elected to the state legislature.

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“When ordinary people were hurting, he wanted to make a difference in their lives,” says Johnson, 62, who worked with Pinckney on civil rights issues. “I shook his hand about three weeks ago at the state house in Columbia for a program we had there. It was the last time I saw him.”

As the hours continue to pass and the community waits for the other victims’ names to be released, Charleston residents are turning to each other for support, Johnson says.

“The community is coming together to grieve together. It’s very sad,” he says. “People are just crying in the streets.”

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