‘The Emanuel Nine’: A tentative memorial for the victims of the Charleston church massacre

A member of the Emanuel AME Church looks onto the building after a massacre that left nine of its members dead on June 17, 2015.

A member of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church told their current pastor, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, last year: “It’s hard for me to comprehend someone could be so evil. Is it possible he’s possessed? Like Satan?”

Manning had been the people’s choice. It was now his job to unite, to comfort, to reassure. The church’s former pastor, and state senator, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was one of the nine black churchgoers gunned down by a white supremacist during a Bible study in the Charleston place of worship.

Now, three years later, the church is looking to cement the tragedy with a memorial of remembrance, not of the evil that caused it, but of those who endured it and the perseverance that followed.

“People come by every day and leave flowers and notes,” Michael Arad, the architect, said. “There’s no place for them to go. We need someplace to say ‘We stand with you, we want to honor how the families and the congregation responded.”

Arad was selected by the church to draft the Emanuel Nine memorial. He designed the National September 11 Memorial in New York.

A new 9-foot frame (a foot for each of the victims) will be constructed on three sides of the building: the east, west and the north.

The south-facing entrance will be left open, a gesture Arad attests to the resilience of the congregation in the face of the tragedy.

“The design was inspired by the church, the church and the congregation … taking what’s already there and giving it a physical form,” he said.

The church is currently surrounded by parking lots. In his first proposal, Arad envisioned elevating the church to suggest “the grounds have been sanctified by loss.”

His current plan, however, uproots each of the parking lots — including one in which the killer, 22-year-old Dylann Roof, parked his car before joining Wednesday-night Bible study in the church’s basement — and features symbols of grief and perseverance.

But before ground breaks, the church must raise the estimated cost of least $15 million, which will go toward construction and an endowment fund for upkeep of the memorial, according to developer John Darby, who helped set up a fundraiser with Manning, CNN affiliate WCIV reported.

Within the frame, on the west will be the “memorial court.” In the center will be a fountain with the names of the nine victims: the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson and Pinckney.

Water will spout from a cross-shaped source. On both sides of the fountain will be a marble church pew, with high backs that curve slightly inward to represent shelter. Arad calls them “fellowship benches.”

On the east will be a commemoration of the living. “The survivor’s garden” will have five live oak trees and five benches, one for each person, as well as a sixth bench to mark the survival of the church itself.

The north side will be a more private site, dedicated to individual prayer.

Since the attack, Roof was convicted and sentenced to death. The Confederate flag, a symbol he often posed with, no longer flies at the South Carolina Capitol building. The city of Charleston has apologized for its involvement in the slave trade, an era Roof said he felt was a positive experience for black people.

But amid so much chaos, there has been forgiveness: “Well, the church can’t endorse the death penalty,” Manning told a group that showed up for another of the church’s Wednesday night sessions. “We should acknowledge as Christ did, we meet people where they are.”

By Ayana Archie and Dalila-Johari Paul, CNN