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As I sit in front of my computer on the eve of my birthday, I’m filled with ombre emotions ranging from blood red to a soft shade of pastel pink. On Wednesday night you, a visitor, walked into the open arms of my beloved city and shot it straight in the heart.
What did you expect to accomplish, Dylann? What plans did you hope to achieve?
I wish I could stand in front of you and look deeply into your eyes and slowly extract the voices, the thoughts, the teachings? that enticed you to walk into Mother Emanuel AME and take the lives of nine innocent people. Did killing elderly women fuel your life force, Dylann? Did taking the lives of unsuspecting African American christians make you feel like more of a man?
My veins are blistered and sore from the surge of rage that coursed through me when I first read the headlines. My head throbs from the migraine that lingers in the distance, an unwelcome reminder of the several hours I’ve spent intermittently crying: mourning for the dead, mourning for their families, and mourning for the loss of the glittering halo that has always rested upon the head of the Holy City. Things like this don’t happen in Charleston any more, Dylann. Well, they’re not supposed to any way. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the Civil War ended long, long ago.
I’m a Charlestonian. I’ve lived here since I was five years old, and I will always call this town my home. Some fun memories are of my older brother trying to protect me from boys on the playground at James B. Edwards Elementary school, my first electrifying kiss in Mt. Pleasant Memorial Gardens by a boy with turquoise eyes, crabbing off the Old Bridge in the Old Village, walking to the Circle K on Mathis Ferry Road to get Crystal Pepsi, and skinny dipping on the beaches of Sullivan’s Island with neon phosphorescence glimmering in the waves.
Do you want to know what my most precious memories stem from though, Dylann? The answer might surprise you.
Death, destruction, complete devastation…these were all present during the most memorable year of my life. In September 1989, when I was 8 years old, Charleston, SC was hit by the most devastating hurricane I’ve experienced in my lifetime, Hurricane Hugo: A category 4 monster storm which ripped through the Atlantic Ocean leaving nearly 100,000 people homeless and taking the lives of 61. This hurricane was before your time, kid, but I can’t help but think you’ve heard of it before. Since your middle name is Storm, were you just trying to live up to your name and leave complete carnage in your wake?
My family evacuated during Hugo, but when we returned? We came home to a neighborhood where massive oak trees had been uprooted and thrown through homes, windows were shattered, pets were missing, curfews were mandatory, and souls were wounded.
But they weren’t broken.
As a community we gathered together. We joined forces. We worked side by side. We shared our supplies. We were a team. Our days were filled with a melody of hammers tinging nails and buzz saws blazing through wood. The evenings were spent on the driveway of the family who was on dinner duty laughing, carrying on, and cutting up as if eating out of cans or cooking on a mini camping stove powered by a generator was a normal, everyday occurrence. I guess at that time it was.
This unity with our neighbors, this loyalty between friends and this camaraderie between Charlestonians resonated with me deeply. It became my way of life, and it is a way of life I have always known. Charlestonians care deeply about their city. We care deeply about our citizens, and we are insanely passionate about protecting them.
That’s why I’m so confused as to why you chose our city to infiltrate, Dylann. Did you think because the first shots of the Civil War were shot here 154 years ago that you were going to make it happen again? Did you believe you were going to start a race riot in our streets? Is that what you were trying to achieve?
Oh, bless your heart, Dylann. Bless your very, very sick heart.
I also can’t help but wonder if the date and the number of your victims was premeditated or was it just a coincidence? Do you realize you shot and killed 9 people nearly 8 years to the day of the devastating Sofa Super Store fire? Were you intentionally trying to undermine the integrity and heroism of the Charleston 9 firefighters? Were you somehow trying to be a hero yourself?
I know the whole world hates you right now and, at times I wish I could to, but I just can’t find it in my heart to hate someone who is very clearly sick. I know nothing of your family so I’m not sure if you were raised racist or what, but I want you to know that I am praying for you and your family. I’ll simply leave it at that.
For now I’m choosing to focus on my beloved city, a city that has risen above this horrible massacre and is showing its brilliant colors to the world. I will join in singing the hymns on the streets, and I will pray for peace and the Lord’s will be done when the church bells unite on Sunday.
And, Dylann, as you’re listening to those bells from the confines of your jail cell and you hear the melodic chorus of our city unite, please be aware that, after years pass by and the pain and heartache has healed, this event will also be recognized around the world for the Charlestonian camaraderie, the love and devotion, and the familial connection our city has shown to the victims, their families, and the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME Church.
And you, Dylann Storm? You will go down in history as some sick, punk kid with a heinous haircut who murdered senselessly and was apprehended swiftly because you failed to understand the foundation of unity on which our city stands.
*For those wishing to make donations to the families of the victims-Rev. Clementa Pickney, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. De-Payne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lance-please click here for more info*