The jurors deliberating the fate of Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, have already heard his taped confession. They heard him laugh as he talked about the shootings, which came after he sat through Bible study with a dozen members of the oldest black church in the South.
That was always the most chilling aspect of this twisted, insane act: That a person’s heart could be so cold as to let him to sit for nearly an hour in a house of worship, to fellowship with those poor people, and then to open fire.
The Charleston church massacre was the first major national news story after I left journalism in March of 2015. On the morning of June 18, 2015, the day after the shootings, I got up as always and turned on the local news radio station. It was the lead story.
My first thought was, Oh, shit, I gotta get to Charleston.
My second thought was, No, I don’t.
My third thought was, Thank you, God.
I still thought of news events in terms of difficulty of the story: how to tell it, who would have to interviewed, etc. Those kinds of stories are the hardest. You have to find people whose loved ones have been suddenly snatched away, and get them to share their experience.
It affects you deeply. Or it did me. I covered the Oklahoma city bombing in 1995. I was on a team of Philadelphia Inquirer reporters assigned to write about the children killed in the daycare center on the first floor. We all hated it: Day after day after day. When the editors said one of us could go home, I won out because I had small children at home. I packed up my laptop, my clothes and my emotions, and got on a plane.
Ten years later, I was back in Oklahoma City for something else. I visited the memorial to the 168 victims. I sat there in the stillness of the morning, and suddenly, it all came rushing back. I cried the tears of a father that I had swallowed as a journalist.
This past summer, we visited Charleston and Mother Emanuel. As I took pictures, I saw Kim crying. I went over and hugged her. “Let it out,” I said. “Don’t carry it home.”