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On the minds of many voters in South Carolina is one of the greatest tragedies to hit state in modern history: the mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, often called Mother Emanuel.
Rev. Anthony Thompson lost his wife, Myra, that night. He shares that experience, as well as his thoughts on the upcoming election, with Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson.
Interview Highlights: Rev. Anthony Thompson
His recollections from the night of the shooting
“I was coming home from my church. My church, we have vacation Bible study and my wife, of course, was over at Emmanuel getting ready to teach her Bible study. When I got home – usually she’ll get home after me anyway – when I came home, as soon as I got in, the phone rang and it was one of the members from Emmanuel. She said ‘let me speak to Myra.’ I said, 'well she had Bible study tonight and she’s teaching it.' She said ‘oh yeah, well hold on a minute someone’s on the other line calling me.’ She came back on the phone and she said ‘Reverend Thompson, you need to go to the church.’ I said, 'well I just left my church,' and she said ‘no, you need to go to Emmanuel.’ I said, 'well what’s going on?' She said ‘Well I heard there was some shooting going on.'
"I dropped the phone, I was in the kitchen, ran out that door, and didn’t even lock the door, got I my car, and when I got to Calhoun Street, which is the street the church was on, the police was blocking that street. I told them who I was and that my wife was in the church, and he was like ‘oh, well, they took everyone over to that hotel across the street, the Marriot.’ I was like, 'oh, thank God, everybody’s OK.' And I got to the door where they were supposed to be, and when I opened the door, Felicia, one of the survivors, and her grandchild was sitting in a chair. She looked at me and she said, ‘Anthony, Myra’s gone.’ I didn’t believe it. I ran out of the hotel and I ran towards the church, everything was blocked off, I don’t know how I got past the policeman and the FBI and everybody else that was out there but I did somehow, and I got almost out to the door where they were going back and forth and somebody snatched me.
"Of course, you know, I was like 'I have to go in there,' and identified who I was and he was like ‘well.’ I was like, 'what’s going on?' He said, ‘well, can’t tell you too much right now.’ I said, 'are they still in there?' He said ‘they’re still in there.’ I said if they’re in there, why can’t they come out? He said, ‘I can’t tell you that sir.’ Of course, I kind of figured it out, I put things together, and I just flip. I just lost it. I just flipped. That was the first time in my life that I was uncontrollable. I didn’t know what to do. Of course, we didn’t find out until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning what actually happened; that they were all dead. But I tell you, man, I just cried the whole time. There was nothing else I could do.”
What do you miss the most about Myra?
“Everything, I mean we were very close. Wherever you saw one, you saw the other, and just you know, her mere presence makes it hard for me to go through the day because she’s always there and I’m always where she is at. I miss her calling me, her favorite thing, she’d walk in the door, go ‘honey,’ everything was ‘honey,’ you know. And of course, that’s what I called her. Just her laugh, her conversation. So many things, so many things I will miss about her.”
Who do you blame for this situation?
“I never really looked at it as blaming someone. After it happened, I tried my best not to let Dylann Roof be a part of my life, in no fashion, in no matter, nothing because I didn’t want him to have control over me and my children. Of course he’s at fault for doing it, but there’s a lot of factors that involve just why this came to be. It’s all by hatred, racism and gun violence, all of that has a lot to do with what happened here that night. Dylann was just the instrument to make that happen.”
What would stop this from happening again?
“I don’t know of anything that would actually stop it entirely from happening again, but I know that we can take some measures to try to make it maybe not happen as much as it does, because I realize just how prevalent gun violence was after this happened, and I really started thinking if we can just, especially in South Carolina, if we can adjust these loopholes. There needs to be a law mandating that everybody, no matter where you buy a gun from, where you purchase a gun from, an investigation has to be done, a record check has to be done. I think we will alleviate a lot of gun violence, because it wouldn’t be in the hands of the wrong people.”
You appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad. Do you believe Hillary Clinton would do what you would like to be done in regards to gun regulations?
“I’m sure she will. It’s going to take someone like her who already has some acquaintances and associates in politics to be able to push for the gun laws to be changed. Anybody right now – I mean he’ll be the president, but he’s not going to have much power because he’s gonna have to convince people to do what he wants them to do. Lord knows how long that’s gonna take. But I believe Hillary is in a unique position right now because she’s been there, and she talked about it when she was running for the presidential candidate for the Democrats the first time, and she’s talking about the same thing now. So I believe that she can.”
Is the mass shooting in Charleston at the center of the discussion, as we get close to the primary?
“I can’t say it’s at the heart of the majority of the voters, but I think it’s something that they may think about because this situation did affect the whole nation. It did affect people internationally as well. It seems to have put people in a different frame of mind and attitude, and some hearts were changed about how they felt, about hating people or racism. We receive tons of mail, tons of letters; people talking about how this thing changed their lives and how, they were racist and they repented of being a racist, and how they can see themselves to forgive people now, they say that they can. It may not be something that’s constantly on their mind, but the thought is there.”
What did you think when you saw the Confederate flag come down in front of the State House?
“I was shocked. I was amazed, but glad because at that particular time nobody was talking about the flag. Nobody was thinking about whether we wanted it up or down. It was something that never really bothered me that much because it was just there, as far as I was concerned. It didn’t mean anything to me, it didn’t do anything to me. I decided to just forget about it, but when it came down, I was like ‘thank God.’ To me it was like, well some good is coming out of this tragedy, so I was really thrilled about it, and then that’s when I thought to myself ‘I need to do more, and what is it I could do to bring something good out of this bad situation myself?’"
- Anthony Thompson, reverend at Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
This segment aired on February 18, 2016.