NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Local churches are praying for the families, congregation, and South Carolina community where a gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, allegedly sat in a Bible study for an hour, then pulled out a gun and killed nine parishioners, including the pastor.
“If you can sit inside of a church and listen to a Bible study for one hour, then you can pull out a gun and say you want to kill black people, something is wrong with that picture,” said Rev. Henry Brown from Hartford.
The South Carolina massacre is hitting home. The AME Church in Bloomfield has close ties to the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, as does Bethel AME New Haven Church.
“I received a text message that this shooting had occurred inside one of our sister churches, and it took me back because on a Wednesday night you look across the country and America, predominately African-American churches have their door open on Wednesday night,” said Pastor Steven Cousin, Jr., Bethel AME New Haven Church.
The Bethel AME Church had its doors open Wednesday for Bible study and prayer. Members say it could have happened there.
“There was about 30 of us downstairs in our own church basement, so it could have very easily have been us,” said Meredith Benson. “Our church door was open to allow people to go in and come out and we were here. We could have been like Emanuel.”
Pastor Cousin says he knew Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was among those killed in South Carolina.
“When I met him, I really looked up to him and took my ministry and modeled after this is what I aspire to be,” he said.
“This man who I had known, who I loved from a far, admired his work, for him to lose his life so suddenly and now I’m asking the question who is going to pick up that mantle and continue to do the work,” the pastor continued.
While authorities are investigating the violence that took Pinckney’s life as a hate crime, Rev. Brown believes it goes beyond racism.
“He can say racism all he wants, but it was more than racism,” he said. “To me it was an attack against God, His kingdom, and His people.”
“I ask the question why, but I can’t come up with a real sensible answer to why these things are happening,” said Rev. David Hendricks of Bloomfield.
There may be one small clue as to why this may have happened. If you look into Roof’s record, he had Suboxone on him when arrested in the past. Dr. Craig Allen, the Medical Director at Rushford, says Suboxone is used to suppress an opium habit.
“It’s to make them calm down, feel normal, not go through withdrawal symptoms, and make them feel good and able to function,” he said.
Dr. Allen says that off the drug, people can become irritable and irrational, but the drug is a lifesaver if used properly.
“This type of medication gets people into treatment, gets them off the streets, it gets people away from needles and other dangerous sexually transmitted diseases, takes them away from crime,” he said.
The Bethel AME New Haven Church will hold a vigil Saturday at 10 a.m.