Four of the nine people who were killed Wednesday at a church in Charleston were ordained ministers in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to AME General Secretary Jeffrey Cooper.
The Revs. Clementa Pinckney, Shronda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton Doctor and Daniel Simmons were killed in Wednesday’s shooting. Pickney was the lead minister of the Charleston congregation, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Dylann Roof has confessed to shootings inside the South’s oldest African American church. Roof spent nearly an hour quietly watching a Bible study group before opening fire, authorities claim. Roof told police that he chose the church because he wanted to ensure that he would avoid killing white people, a source told The Washington Post.
He said he “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,” according to the source, a state lawmaker who had been briefed by police. However, he said, “I knew I had to complete my mission.”
In the midst of killing them he said “you all are taking over our country. Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.”
Pinckney, 41, was leading the Bible group when a gunman opened fire inside the church. He began preaching when he was 13 years old and was first appointed to preach at the age of 18. In 1996, he was elected to the state House of Representatives at age 23. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate.
In 2010 he was named pastor of Emanuel AME, a fourth-generation minister. He was a doctorate candidate at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Pinckney and Simmons were graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, an institution of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. The Columbia, S.C.-based seminary is one of eight Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminaries.
Simmons, 74, was a pastor retired from another church in Charleston who worshiped every Sunday at Emanuel AME and visited on Wednesdays for Bible studies.
Coleman-Singleton, 45, was a minister on staff at the historic church, as well as a speech pathologist and girls track and field coach.
Middleton Doctor, 49, sang in church choirs and preached in Baptist and AME churches in the Charleston area, a friend told the Post & Courier. The friend said she joined Emanuel AME in March and was working for Southern Wesleyan University as admissions coordinator for the school’s Charleston learning center.
The AME is the oldest independent black denomination in the United States and has 2.51 million members, according to the World Council of Churches. The denomination was founded in 1794 as a protest against slavery by Richard Allen and other blacks in Philadelphia after they were pulled from their knees while praying in an all-white church.
The AME name comes from three ideas: African means that the church was organized by people of African descent and heritage, although it is intended for people of all origins. The church’s roots from Methodist churches, which stems from the theologian John Wesley. And Episcopal refers to the church’s form of government.
In 1816, black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church withdrew from what was then the Free African Society because of a dispute over burial ground. They formed a separate congregation that became Emanuel, the church at the center of Wednesday’s shooting.
In 1821, Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders who had purchased his freedom for $1,500 with money from a winning lottery ticket, organized a slave uprising in Charleston.
“Mother Emanuel church and its congregation have risen before –- from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times -– to give hope to generations of Charlestonians,” President Obama said on Thursday. “And with our prayers and our love, and the buoyancy of hope, it will rise again now as a place of peace.”
(This story has been updated.)