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Bermudians remember slain US pastor

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President Barack Obama sings "Amazing Grace" during services honouring the life of Rev Clementa Pinckney, at the College of Charleston TD Arena in Charleston, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of the nine people killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church last week in Charleston (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Bermudian friends of murdered South Carolina state senator and pastor Clementa Pinckney yesterday remembered him as someone destined for greatness.

Sen Pinckney — one of nine people killed in a shooting in the historical Emanuel AME Church — was buried yesterday in Charleston.

While the senator only visited the Island once, he had numerous friends on the Island from his time at Allen University.

Tauria Raynor said that when she went to school there in 1993, Sen Pinkney was one of the first people she met.

“He was one of my mentors,” she said. “I was amazed that at the age of 19 he was already a pastor and had his own church. It was strange to me.

“He was always down to earth, and he would tell jokes, but he always commanded respect wherever he went.

“We all knew he would be recognised for his greatness, but it’s tragic that it happened under these circumstances.”

She said she regrets being unable to attend his funeral, but she was pleased to see her friend getting the respect that he deserved.

“I’m happy to see that they are memorialising his body, that they understand the greatness of him. That President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy at his funeral. It says a lot about Clementa’s character.

Denise Saunders said that when she first landed in Columbia, South Carolina, it was Sen Pickney who met her at the airport and showed her around the campus, immediately building an friendship.

“He was just a really loving person,” she said. “He was the type of person who didn’t force anything on you. He would always say he would rather be a sermon than hear a sermon. Clementa was the type of person who never brought the attention to himself. It was always about the cause. He was just an honest, genuine, caring person.”

She said she was shocked when she received the phone call that he had been killed.

“I can’t stop crying because it’s incredible that this can happen now, in 2015,” she said. “That someone can have so much hate that someone would go and sit with someone for an hour and then just shoot him.

“It’s just sad. This person needs a lot of love. He needs a lot of love. We can just pray that he will find that love. This has affected so many families. Not just the families of the victims but the shooter’s family as well.

“I believe that Clementa’s life was not in vain. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to know Clementa as a friend. He was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful person. It’s sad to see this, but his life was not in vain. His legacy will last.”

Delivering Sen Pinckney’s eulogy, US President Barack Obama recalled meeting him when they were younger, saying: “The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humour, all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

“Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed.

“He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who so changed to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.

“Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23.

“He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith and purity.”

The shooting took place on the evening of June 17 during a bible study session in the historically black church founded by Denmark Vesey — a one-time slave of a Bermudian sea captain. Initial reports stated that a young white male had come into the church and, after participating in discussions for about an hour, produced a pistol and opened fire. The gunman killed nine churchgoers, including Sen Pinckney, and injured one other before fleeing.

Police later arrested 25-year-old Dylann Roof, was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Photographs found in a purported manifesto linked to Mr Roof contained hate-filled writings attacking a number of ethnic groups and photographs of the suspect with the Confederate Flag, fuelling calls for the controversial flag to be removed from the State Capitol.

Tauria Raynor