If you love good journalism and great storytelling, you absolutely must read Jennifer Berry Hawes' latest front-page narrative on the Emanuel AME shooting in Charleston, S.C.:
From the beginning, we have praised the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hawes' strong, sensitive coverage in The Post and Courier, Charleston's daily newspaper:
Once again, the veteran Godbeat pro — now a projects writer — produces a powerful story mixing raw, chilling details with expert attention to revealing religion details:
The focus of this narrative: Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, who survived the massacre, along with Sanders' 11-year-old granddaughter:
The grab-your-attention-in-a-hurry lede:
The blood splattered on her legs — that of her son, an elderly aunt, her pastors, nine people she loved — had dried. She still wore the same clothes, a black skirt and a black-and-white blouse, crusty now.
An endless night before, Felicia Sanders had left her blood-soaked shoes with the dead in the fellowship hall of her beloved lifelong church, Emanuel AME.
Barefoot as the sun rose, she trudged up the steps to her home, the one where 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders’ bedroom waited silently, his recent college acceptance letter tacked onto a bulletin board beside his poetry. It was after 6 a.m., and she hadn’t slept. She hadn’t eaten, not since going to Emanuel AME’s elevator committee meeting the evening before, then its quarterly conference and then its weekly Wednesday Bible study. There, 12 people met in God’s midst. Nine of them died, 77 bullets in their midst.
Felicia had answered questions all night from myriad authorities determined to find the killer. Now her phone rang. Her doorbell rang. Reporters, friends, family, strangers, an endless blare through the jangle of her muddled thoughts. Finally, in a delirious rage, she called an old friend, attorney Andy Savage.
“Andy, it’s too much!” she cried into the phone.
“I’ll be there.”
I'm tempted to copy and paste every other paragraph of this incredible story. However, I'll resist that urge and simply share a couple of key sections that illustrate the piece's ghost-free nature:
First, there's this section on grappling with God:
Next came the questions for God.
The Bible study’s passage that June 17 evening was a widely known one from Mark 4 that discusses sowing spiritual seeds — and how seeds wither without nourishment. It made Felicia think of the killer.
“I want to know why the seed was sitting there for an hour. I want to know why he admitted the next morning he almost didn’t do it because he thought we were nice. I needed somebody who knows. I didn’t go to theology school,” Felicia said. “I just want answers. That’s all I want.”
Her therapist asked if she had a minister to talk to.
But five of them had died with her son.
“Everything I believe in has been shaken,” Felicia said. “I know God has been in the midst. But you ask yourself all these questions. Is it something I did?”
Later, Hawes deftly allows the survivors to confront — in their own words — questions of punishment and forgiveness:
And now they face a trial. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced last week she will seek the death penalty for the suspect.
Polly, a warm grandmotherly presence, doesn’t support the idea. Everyone, she believes, should have a chance to repent. Until retiring three years ago, she was a nurse at the detention center where Roof now is jailed.
“I would have been the one taking care of him,” Polly said. “I think I could have taken care of him with a smile. I know I would have.”
Felicia prefers to let Wilson hand out criminal justice.
“Whatever she decided, I respected,” Felicia said. “Scarlett Wilson didn’t give him the death penalty. He did that to himself. Scarlett Wilson didn’t give him life in prison. He did that to himself.”
Sitting with Felicia in her living room, Polly added: “But ultimately, God has the last word.”
It's real. It's powerful. It's worth your time.