On the nightfall of June 17 in 2015, a gut-churning event took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina where Myra Thompson was facilitating her debut and would become her last Bible study session.
A little-known 21-year-old white lad, Dylann Roof, was one of the twelve attending the study. He sat quietly as Myra shared. Nobody could have guessed what he was thinking but “his intent was to start a race war.” He was looking for an avenue to make that happen. Knowing that slavery in Charleston runs deep, he figured Emanuel was the place to go.
An hour later, as the group finished in prayer with their eyes closed, Roof took out a sheathed gun and opened fire, cold-bloodedly killing eight congregants instantly. He stood over his victims shouting hateful racial slurs and shot repeatedly as they lay on the floor.
Some played dead and miraculously escaped his gunfire. Eight died at the scene, and one died later. They became known as the Emanuel Nine.
Rev Anthony Thompson received a phone call to tell him that there had been a shooting at the house of God, and he was one of the first people on the scene.
When he arrived, he couldn’t locate his wife Myra. One survivor, Felicia Sanders, told him that she was “gone.”
Rev Thompson ran outside, praying that she was OK wherever she was.
As officials have since engulfed the church, it took five of them to hold the pastor down.
Attempts to ask one of the FBI agents what was going on, only yielded him an “I can’t tell you anything. I don’t know anything,’ response.
“So my last question was: ‘Is anybody in the church?’ And he said: ‘Yes.’ I said: ‘Well, if they’re in there, why can’t they come out?’ He said: ‘Well, I can’t tell you that either.’ By that time, I assumed that she was dead. And that’s when I just lost all control,” said Rev Thompson.
It soon became clear that Myra Thompson was one of the nine who were massacred by Dylann Roof.
When Roof appeared for a bail hearing, Rev Thompson had been reluctant to attend and hadn’t planned on saying anything to the callow man who took his beautiful wife from him. Hence, he was overwhelmed by surprise when the judge read out each victim’s name and asked relatives if they wanted to say anything.
The Rev was determined not to speak but then found God telling him to “Get up,” an order he complied to.
“I said: ‘God, whatever it is you have to say you better say it because I don’t have anything to say. So come on, don’t embarrass me up here.’ He reminded me that I was his child, Dylann was his child and that I was a sinner just like Dylann. And I’m saying to myself: ‘You gotta be kidding. I’m not going to tell people I’m a sinner. If that’s what you want me to say I’m gonna sit down,’” said the cleric.
But the Lord insisted that he stood. Ultimately, he got to the podium and words stumbled out. “Son, I forgive you. My family forgives you,” fumbled the Rev.
Roof kept his gaze down throughout the hearing, but when Rev Thompson uttered the name of Jesus, he looked right up into the reverend’s face. Through that moment, the preacher said he “was able to really pierce into his eyes, almost into his very soul,”. He said he saw that “a hurt young man,”.
By the time he finished his speech and walked back to his seat, the anguished minister of the Word said he felt “something leaving” his trembling body but he couldn’t see it.
“And when it was all over, I had this peace like none other. I mean, he took away the burdens I was bearing, he took away the pain I was feeling. He took away the anger and hate – he just took it all away. It was gone. So I know that forgiveness heals. I know what forgiveness can do to a person’s life. It changes your life dramatically,” Rev Thompson said.
In January 2017, Roof was found guilty and sentenced to death by lethal injection. He is now on death row, awaiting a date for his execution.
Now, five years on from the church massacre, the preacher continues to live and breathe this message of forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean he has forgotten the horrors of the night his wife was murdered.
There has been a huge variety of responses to his public statement of forgiveness. Some said that he forgave too quickly, that he didn’t give himself enough time to process the grief; others that you cannot forgive somebody that has such evil intent, who has shown no remorse.
In his response, Rev Thompson has this to say;
“Forgiveness is a choice and, when we choose to forgive, we allow God to do the judging. We’re asking him to take over, because the Bible says do not take revenge. Biblical forgiveness is followed by prayer for the offender. It’s not about a feeling. In my case, it was divine intervention. It takes God to help you to forgive, even if you want to – you can’t do it on your own.”
The while, Rev Thompson has written to Roof.
In one letter, he told him that Myra was a real person, not just a black person and that he wanted him to know that he still forgives him, no matter what.
He also told Roof that he would be happy to visit him and help him give his life to God, if he wanted to do that.
Check out Rev Anthony Thompson’s book, “Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim’s Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace” here.
Thank you for reading this article till the end. Hallelujah Magazine is an African Christian lifestyle outlet committed to publishing reliable, trusted, quality and independent Christian journalism. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and is not influenced by wealthy people, politicians, clerics or shareholders. We are rooted in reality, ad-free and reader-supported. Your contributions from as little as US$1 make this work possible. We also value our readers’ feedback, suggestions and opinions. Do you have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments below. Do you like this story? Share it with a friend as sharing is caring!