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The Full Story of the Charleston AME Shooting in Jennifer Berry Hawes’ ‘Grace Will Lead Us Home’

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A woman reads a program during a memorial service honoring the victims of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a year after the massacre, on June 17th, 2016, in Charleston, South Carolina.

A few months after the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, once the hordes of national reporters covering its aftermath had thinned, Charleston-based Post and Courier reporter Jennifer Berry Hawes decided there was more to be written on the attack. While she was reporting her first story about the shooting, Hawes and a photographer went to take a picture of two survivors in the church sanctuary on a weekday; they had often taken photos there for religion stories. This time, though, they saw an Emanuel AME administrator blocking the survivors from entering, prompting one survivor, Felicia Sanders, to burst into tears and say that she was losing her church.

“It was a moment where I realized there was a lot more going on in this story than [had] met the eye so far,” recalls Hawes, who later uncovered how Sanders had clashed with the church administration after the shooting. When a literary agent called from New York asking if she would be interested in writing a book expanding on her reporting, Hawes began documenting the lives of Sanders, fellow shooting survivor Polly Sheppard, the families of the shooting’s nine victims, then-Governor Nikki Haley, and perpetrator Dylann Roof, among others, long after the shooting’s nine victims had been buried.

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