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Community gathers to remember Sen. Pinckney

Subheadline: 
About 40 people hold prayer vigil in his honor

A stunned group of Jasper County residents gathered at Turpin Park in Ridgeland at noon Thursday to remember state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was among nine people shot and killed Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where Pinckney, 41, served as pastor.

About 40 people held hands and prayed, asked for guidance and sought forgiveness for the suspected killer.

Ladenier Mitchell and the Rev. Renty Kitty led the service, which also included county Sheriff Greg Jenkins, Jasper County School District board chairwoman Berty Riley and Arthur Benjamin, director of the county detention center.

“I felt we had lost one of the best soldiers, not only for the Jasper County School District, but of Jasper County’s community,” Riley said.

Mitchell, of Carey Hill Baptist Church in Ridgeland, has organized a prayer in the park at noon each Friday for several years, but once the news spread late Wednesday night of Pinckney’s death, she knew an impromptu prayer group was needed.

“It’s very important we are with each other in a time like this,” said Mitchell, who now plans to have daily prayer vigils during the week.

Mitchell is about eight years younger than Pinckney, but her aunt lived across the street from Pinckney. She remembers Pinckney, a 1991 graduate of Jasper County High School, as a man who embodied what she called the three Cs: class, charisma and charm.

“Ever since I’ve known him he had a sweet spirit,” she said.

As the group gathered under the shade near the park’s benches, all those at the park were invited to join. Riley even made sure a family with a baby was not excluded.

For several minutes the group shouted prayers, seeking answers from a higher power.

“We ask that you act now, Lord,” Jenkins said.

The gathering also wanted to forgive 21-year-old Dylann Roof, the man suspected of killing the nine people in Charleston. He was arrested Thursday.

“We pray God changes what is in his heart and that we can all live in the county – a united community,” Mitchell said.

Before the prayer, Jenkins spoke about being at home Wednesday when he heard of the shootings. A “restless” night followed as Jenkins read texts and email messages and thought of Pinckney’s rise – from high school graduate, to being elected to the South Carolina Legislature in 1996 at 23 and then beginning to represent Jasper in the state Senate in 2000.

He was devastated by Pinckney’s death. Jenkins said he could almost feel the unease in the atmosphere as he went to work Thursday and he thought of the suffering Pinckney family.

“I think we need to embrace the family.” Jenkins said. “We’ll lift them up in prayer. It’s no easy task. This is going to be a strenuous healing process.”

Rev. Kitty of St. Luke’s Baptist Church in Ridgeland said Pinckney was proud to represent Jasper in Columbia.

“He took great pride and joy in supporting Jasper County and the Lowcountry,” Kitty said.

The prayer group also sought an ease to the recent surge of violence in the county. Last week there were three fatal shootings in six days.

“Only you can stop the violence, Lord,” Mitchell said. “If you’re not in it God, there’s nothing. You never failed your people before Lord, I don’t expect you to do it now.”

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