Survivors of Charleston church massacre visit Fort Wayne

Felicia Sanders (left) and Polly Sheppard (right) viewing the Charleston Memorial at Imani Baptist Temple.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s been 15 months since a gunman killed nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter said he was trying to start a race war. Two of the people who survived the massacre are in Fort Wayne this weekend.

Polly Sheppard and Felicia Sanders will lead the “Fort Wayne Love Train.” It’s a one-mile unity walk organized by Imani Baptist Temple Reverend Bill McGill. He believes if these women can make a determined effort to reject hate and embrace inter-racial cooperation, then certainly the people of Fort Wayne can too.

Sheppard and Sanders said they have forgiven the shooter, Dylann Roof. He took the lives of Sander’s son, aunt and cousin when he massacred the bible study on June 17, 2015.

“I’m not coping at all,” Sanders said. “I’m just doing what I have to do every day. We’re just moving through it day by day. Some days are good. Some days are bad, but I just thank God that everyday is not the same.”

She said forgiveness is not a sign of weakness.

“Actually, that’s a sign of strength,” she said. “You cannot allow yourself to not forgive and maintain a healthy life.”

Sheppard believes forgiveness is the only option.

“If you believe in Christ, you will forgive,” Sheppard said. “That’s the only way you can heal. If you keep hatred in your heart, it messes you up.”

The two women are fighting for a future of racial harmony in Charleston. They want Fort Wayne to do the same.

“We might have different skin color, but the only thing separating us is the top layer of our skin,” Sheppard said. “Bad comes in black and white and different races. Good comes in black and white and different races. So, take time to get to know one another.”

The unity walk will begin Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. at the corner of Elizabeth Street and Clinton Street and proceed south over the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge to Freimann Square.