From the very beginning, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her newspaper, The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., have owned the story of the Emanuel AME Church shooting.
Just a few of the posts I've written over the last year praising Hawes, who covered the Godbeat full time before joining the Charleston paper's projects team:
To mark Friday's one-year anniversary of the attack on Emanuel AME, The Post and Courier produced a five-part narrative series written by Hawes.
This exceptional series takes readers behind the scenes of the shooting and the lives of those forever changed by it — and yes, Hawes once again nails the faith angle:
On Day 1 of the series, the chilling opening scene:
The assassin slinked past the Rev. Dan Simmons Sr. as the retired man of God lay dying in the church’s hallway. He slipped by an office where the pastor’s wife and little girl cowered under a desk. An hour earlier, the gunman, a young white supremacist with plans to start a race war, had strolled in through the heavy wooden side door just a few steps away.
Now, Polly Sheppard heard it slam shut behind him. Heavy silence descended.
She rose from under a table to scan the sudden stillness. Bodies lay amid the blood and shell casings from 77 bullets fired at those who had gathered for their weekly Bible study. Bibles, hymnals and notebooks lay strewn around. The 70-year-old felt alone in the room except for a strong and distinct sense of God’s presence.
A retired nurse, she stepped toward the bodies to check for vital signs. Then she heard a voice.
“Miss Polly, please help my son!”
Polly jumped in shock. It was Felicia Sanders. She rushed over to her old friend as Felicia reached for her son, Tywanza, at 26 the youngest of the nine people gunned down. Blood spilled onto his mother’s black dress and her bare legs. Yet Felicia still gripped her 11-year-old granddaughter against her chest, desperate to shield the child from the horrors. They had played dead while the searing heat of gunshots scorched their skin, killing those around them.
The three were the lone survivors of 12 who had gathered this June 17 night in Emanuel AME Church’s fellowship hall to study God’s word.
Thousands of words later, Day 5 of the series ends on a hopeful note:
Standing outside Emanuel with his new wife, Victoria, they talked about their futures in a day when mass shootings are constant news.
Suddenly, she pointed up at the late evening sky. A rainbow had formed, arching up from the trees across Calhoun Street from the church with colors growing more vibrant as they watched. It crested right over the church’s white and brown spire.
“That’s God,” he said.
Victoria pointed just above the brilliant hues.
“It’s a double one.”
The part in between is worth your time.
Go ahead and read it all.