GREENSBORO — The woman who was given a chilling message to share after a mass killer spared her life is among the speakers next week at various events here connected to the 2015 massacre of nine African Americans during a Bible study at a Charleston, S.C., church.
Polly Sheppard, who will be part of a discussion at Temple Emanuel, was among the group gathered for a Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church that June when gunman Dylann Roof pulled out a gun and started shooting. When Roof was done, he told Sheppard that he let her live so that she could tell the world what happened.
“I remember the shots being fired ... the room became foggy,” South Carolina television station WMBF reported Sheppard saying earlier this year to a crowd in Florence.
She then spoke about when she came face-to-face with Roof, the station reported. She said he told her, “I’m not going to shoot you. I’m going to leave you here to tell the story.”
“Some say the killer spared my life,” Sheppard was quoted as saying. “I don’t accept that. He didn’t let me live. God let me live. He will never get that credit from me.”
Other events here next week include a free showing of the movie, “Emanuel,” which tells the story of that night and the aftermath through the eyes of survivors and family members. The movie is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at the UNCG Auditorium, 408 Tate St.
According to USA Today, celebrities across the country, including Halle Berry, Mahershala Ali, Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox, Justin Timberlake and Charlize Theron bought out shows and donated the tickets to communities and organizations.
The documentary, whose producers include NBA star Stephen Curry and Oscar award-winning actress Viola Davis, looks at the dynamics of justice and faith, love and hate, and forgiveness. Roof, who was 21 at the time and later told people he had been looking for black people to shoot that night, has been sentenced to death on federal hate crimes.
As a testament of their faith, some of the survivors and family members of the slain said in court that they had already forgiven Roof before the sentencing.
The movie is hosted by City Help of the Triad, Triad Pastor Partnership, Can We Talk and Mission Greensboro. Event organizers hope to bring together a diversity of people.
“Emanuel is so important because it helps bring awareness of the virus of racism and the healing power of forgiveness,” said the Rev. Odell Cleveland, a Charleston native and a staff pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
That the shooting happened at church services seemed especially cruel.
The Charleston shooter picked a night when Bible study, also called midweek services, is routinely taking place in churches across the country.
At a vigil at Bethel AME Zion in Greensboro the day after the shootings, a cross section of people from the community comforted each other.
Among them was Mozell Weston, the retired N.C. A&T senior associate director of admissions, who is from Charleston and grew up at Emanuel. She said that the shooter, seen on video at the church’s surveillance camera at the front door, would have walked right off the street to where the Bible study was being held.
“And if he was there to pray or to listen, he would have been welcomed,” Weston said at the time.
The week’s other related events include:
- A showing at 7 p.m. Thursday at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, open to those who participated in interfaith study missions or interfaith clergy study missions to Israel.
- Sheppard and civil rights activist the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers are guest speakers at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 9, at Temple Emanuel, 1129 Jefferson Road, Greensboro. The discussion includes connections to the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh where 11 people were killed.