CHARLESTON, S.C. — Congregants at Emanuel AME Church will have to repair more than their torn hearts: The church they call home is riddled with bullets, termites, and decay.
After Dylann Roof allegedly killed nine parishioners here in the study room, some church members say they can never return there. Roof reportedly reloaded five times, spraying so many bullets that they struck the very body of the church. Large squares were cut out around bullet holes in paneling by the FBI for ballistics testing.
Even so, the floors are pockmarked with bullets, according to church trustee William Dudley Gregorie. While there have been discussions about completely renovating the study room, no decisions have been made.
Redoing that room is the least of the church’s troubles, though. Gregorie said the church would need to spend “at least” $3 million to return it to its former glory.
“It would be a shame, considering what has happened, not to save this church for the next generation of the next 200 years,” he said. Gregorie was put in charge of church property after his predecessor, Myra Thompson, was murdered here.
Gregorie said Emanuel AME recently paid for a structural assessment of the main church, and it found the attic is full of termite damage. Termite waste, known as “frass,” was also found along the base of nearly every window the sanctuary. There are “literally thousands of dead termites” every morning on the floor near the pulpit, Gregorie added. Just exterminating the termites and fixing their damage will likely cost close to $800,000, he said.
What’s more, the steeple appears to be off kilter and transferring its weight onto what Bradley Simmons suspects is a cracked foundation. Simmons is a general contractor who has spent countless hours working on Mother Emanuel over the years, and counted several of the victims as friends. Simmons even hung the doors Roof walked through.
“That was not the way I wanted the world to see those beautiful mahogany doors for the first time,” he said.
This is not the first time Mother Emanuel has had to rebuilding itself. In 1834, white Charlestonians burned the church to the ground over an alleged slave uprising. After the Civil War, when blacks were finally allowed to have churches of their own, Emanuel was toppled by an earthquake and rebuilt yet again. Hurricanes claimed three different steeples. But this was the first time that destruction came from within.
Millions of dollars have been donated since the shootings. The city of Charleston set up the two biggest funds, the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and the Lowcountry Ministries–Reverend Pinckney Fund. The Hope fund has brought in more than $1.3 million and the Pinckney, named for the lead pastor, more than $550,000. Donations have come in all sizes, from $2,000 raised by a lemonade stand to hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies like Google, Volvo, Wells Fargo.
That money, rightfully, is going to the stricken families, which leaves the church mostly on its own for capital projects.
Though there have been some free blessings that have helped.
When Simmons returned to re-hang those same doors after law enforcement of every stripe finished scouring the property, a local security company showed up to install a new security system. Gregorie said they did it for free. The same went for the local company that fixed a compressor in one of its massive commercial air-conditioning units, not worrying about the warranty, or that another company had installed it.
While the termites continue to gnaw away inside, the world struggles to deal with the massacre outside. A white family of three paused on the sidewalk last week to sign their names on a sapling planted in front of the church. That little tree’s roots are shallow, unlike the roots of Emanuel that have grown stronger with each century.