Survivor and victims’ family members spread message of forgiveness in light of Charleston church shooting

EASTON - It has been three years since the tragic shooting took place inside a Charleston, South Carolina church.

The mass tragedy not only rocked the local community, but it started a conversation about racial hatred in the world.

A survivor and the victims' family members had a message of forgiveness for those at the Covenant Church of Easton Saturday evening.

It happened on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

"I remember a young, white male coming in about 15 minutes into the bible study," said Polly Sheppard who survived the shooting. That young, white male was 21-year old Dylan Roof, a white supremacist. After Roof sat down with the group of 12 for 45 minutes, he did the unthinkable when the clock struck 9 p.m.

"He was just walking and shooting ... changing clips in the gun," added Sheppard.

The bullet shells fell on the floor and one of them fell on Sheppard's leg and stung her. She said she remembers Roof looking her in the eye to ask her a question.

"He said 'did I shoot you?' and I said 'no,' " added Sheppard.

She was certain that was going to be the end for her, but Roof unexpectedly let her go. "He told me he was going to let me live to tell the story," added Sheppard.

However, some did not live to tell a story. One of them was 74-year old Reverend Dr. Daniel Lee Simmons, a man who died saving someone's life. "He was this over the top person, he was a very smart, intelligent man. He was a learner," said Rose Simmons, daughter of Reverend Simmons.

Rose said she is not angry her father died in such a heinous way. In fact, she believed this tragedy was a sign for the world to open up its eyes to the racism that still exists.

"Honestly, this is the world we live in. This happens," added Rose.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was often referred to as "Mother Emanuel."

59-year old Myra Thompson was a bible study teacher and acted like a mother to many.

"She and I ... we did everything together. I mean, everything," said Reverend Anthony Thompson.

As time went on, so did the court proceedings. It was something Reverend Thompson did not care to pay attention to until one day.

It was at a bond hearing when he got a message from above.

"I told him I forgive you. My family forgives you, but you need to repent and you need to confess," added Reverend Thompson.

Polly Sheppard, Rose Simmons and Reverend Anthony Thompson have one message to spread and it is forgiveness because it is something they had to learn to do,

"I forgive him, I do. I pray for him and hope that he gets on a path to some recompense for this crime," added Rose Simmons.

"My mission is to spread the gospel of forgiveness so that's what I'm doing," added Reverend Thompson.

"You have to forgive him. That's the only way you can heal," added Sheppard.

41.271206 -73.296640