'Tattered pieces': Victims describe life after Emanuel without victims to bind families
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) —
The damage done to the families of the Emanuel AME shooting victims is almost irreperable, family members of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lance told jurors on Friday.
Lance and Jackson were two of the oldest members of the church killed that June night when Dylann Roof opened fire on a bible study group in an act of racist violence meant to spark a race war and more white-on-black violence.
The women were matriarchs in their families, and in Jackson and Lance's cases, in the halls of Emanuel as well.
"Now that she's gone," said Rev. Sharon Risher of her mother Ethel Lance, "there have been holes in the fabric of what made our family. On June 17, 2015, there was no more material for the fabric, it was just tattered pieces. There was nobody there to keep together, to sew the patches back together so now we have tattered pieces and I know that would devastate her."
Risher says Lance made sure the family stayed together and would do everything possible to make them one cohesive unit.
ABC News 4 has a team of journalists in the federal courtroom covering every development and relaying the information in a live blog. Follow along here from the mobile app.
Risher said Lance's life was not an easy one. She was an unwed mother at 14. She battled guilt and shame, but she was a teacher and used her life as an example to her children.
She was also a giver, Risher said. A person who visited Lance's home would leave with something, whether it was a little present or a plate of food.
But Lance's strength, her ability to hold the family together is what Risher misses most now.
"Now it's not OK. Now it's not. We don't have anybody to bring us together. We don't have anybody that loves each of us in that special way. We don't have the love," Risher said.
"I can't be her. I can't replace her. As much as I want to guide my family and to be there for them, but at this time I can't."
For Najee Washington, Lance's granddaughter, the loss of her grandmother was literally like a light going out.
She told a story of the morning of the shooting when she was in Lance's home and everything was bright. Then there was a call about the shooting and she went downtown to find out what had happened, assuming the person taken to MUSC was her dear grandmother.
"Once [the coroner] said 'I'm sorry,' that's when I collapsed and I started crying. I felt her with me. I got the strength to call the rest of the family and tell them what happened," she said.
At 4 a.m. on June 18, after hours of sitting in a downtown Charleston hotel conference room and waiting for answers, hearing from the coroner, and then having to tell the heartbreaking news to the family, Washington said she stood in her grandmother's home and it was dark.
"It's just so dark and that morning was a lot of light. It was just a switch of a light and everything felt cold and I couldn't sleep that night. It felt like a dream. Everything felt like a dream," she said.
Since then, it's been tough. The family doesn't gather at holidays like they did. The communication between aunts and nephews, children and grandparents, isn't as frequent now.
She misses that, Washington said.
"She was that glue, that stable foundation," Washington said of Lance's place in the family. "Whenever any of us had a problem... she was the person to go to."
It was the same for the Jackson family and the loss of Susie Jackson. The Jacksons are one of the largest families at Emanuel.
When Walter Jackson Sr. and Jr. talk about Susie Jackson, they light up. They love telling stories of her traveling for the most mundane of reasons, like a Kindergarten graduation.
Susie Jackson would drive to see her children and grandchildren for graduations, birthdays, and holidays. When one of her children came home, they would be greeted with their favorite meals.
Walter Sr., her son, says she adopted everyone she met, joking he figures he had at least 200 nephews and nieces thanks to his mother's giving spirit.
Walter Jr., affectionately known as Bernie, said Bernie was a name given to him by Susie Jackson when he was born.
"I had a cool grandma," he told jurors.
He added: "No wasn't really in her vocabulary. My grandmother said yes to pretty much everything. People would just show up to her house. There would always be food. There would be a place for people to just be relaxed. I know she never said no to me, but I was her favorite grandson."
The gut-wrenching statements of loss were juxtaposed with the revelation that Roof wore shoes with drawings of white supremacist symbols on them to the courtroom as recently as Monday.
That's according to FBI Special Agent Joe Hamski, the lead investigator in the case against Roof.
As Hamski explained the symbology of the drawings found in Roof's jailhouse journal, he said Roof had also drawn a cross commonly used by white supremacists on the heels of his shoes.
It's all part of the government's case that Roof has not changed since he was arrested a day after the shooting in June 2015.
Jurors also got to see the messages Roof posted on the white supremacy website Stormfront.org in which he tried to meet up with other local white supremacists and shared his thoughts on white women dating black men.
"They have even been told that if they have a baby with a black it will be better looking. And in their subconscious they probably in some way know that life would be easier for a mixed baby than a white baby," he wrote in a message to another user on the website.
Hamski also read more writings from Roof's journal, things he added after his confiscated journal was returned to him.
"If we were to, for example, become completely ruthless to the blacks or implement a harsh eugenics program, who could stop us?" Roof writes in the journal.
The journal showed Roof also thought he would be pardoned for his crimes eventually. He also considered adopting a child and thought Hitler would be sainted.
Prosecutors say their case against Roof is drawing to a close, and they expect to wrap up as soon as Monday.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he would be working through the weekend to prepare a draft jury charge that attorneys and Roof could make objections to by Sunday evening.
It's not clear whether Roof will change his mind and present any evidence before jurors are charged and begin their deliberations.
Roof is representing himself, and in opening remarks on Wednesday he told jurors there was nothing wrong with him mentally. He did not ask them to spare his life.
Since then, Roof has been mostly silent when the jury is in the room, only lodging a few objections to evidence being presented.
Currently, it's expected the jury could have the case by next Tuesday.