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Cousin Remembers Reverend Killed In Charleston, S.C., Shooting


A look back now at one of the most shocking events of 2015. It happened on a warm June night in South Carolina.


CHIEF GREGORY MULLEN: At 9:05 this evening, we received a call of a shooting that had occurred at the church here on Calhoun Street.


That's Police Chief Gregory Mullen talking about the murder of nine people, all African-American, at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. They were gathered that evening for Bible study. A young white man sat with them for a while and then opened fire. He later told authorities that he wanted to start a race war.

SHAPIRO: Reverend DePayne Middleton was among those killed, and we want to take a moment now to remember her. She was 49 years old, a mother to four daughters and cousin to Reverend Waltrina Middleton of Cleveland, Ohio.

WALTRINA MIDDLETON: Our cousins, our cohort of cousins, we grew up as siblings.

SHAPIRO: Also as neighbors and schoolmates and friends. DePayne was 10 years older, but Waltrina Middleton says they were as close as sisters.

MIDDLETON: It's been difficult for me to even look at her photo. I reflect on times that we've spent together, like, after school sitting on her parents' front porch, and she would talk to me about what happened in the school day or help me work through my adolescent problems. I hold onto those conversations that we had, just those precious, intimate moments of sisterhood. I mean, she bought me my first bra.


MIDDLETON: You know, things like that. Growing up with DePayne was kind of intimidating almost because she was a perfectionist. She was very popular. She excelled academically. She was also a successful athlete. She was the queen of our high school.

SHAPIRO: When you say the queen, do you mean figuratively or actually, like she was the homecoming queen?

MIDDLETON: (Laughter) She was the homecoming queen, but she was also Miss Baptist O. High (ph). There was always this high expectation when you went to the middle school, to the high school - oh, you're a Middleton. You're DePayne's cousin or relative.

SHAPIRO: Well, if that's what she was like as a kid, what kind of an adult, what kind of a parent, what kind of a reverend did she grow up to be?

MIDDLETON: Well, we call her Dep (ph) and Dep had great passion and dedication to everything. And so family with everything to her. She loved her children. And you can see - her children, they are DePayne Middleton with the go-get-it energy, the drive and the determination, wonderful, like, from the pit of your belly laughter to the very quiet, charming personality, the desire to protect each other and one another - that's who they are. Looking back at even growing up because there were times when I wanted to be angry with her or her sister or one of my other cousins or my siblings and she was that voice of reason that would challenge us when we would get into arguments and fights. And I'm very thankful for that because that lesson that she instilled in us is definitely something that's giving us strength today.

SHAPIRO: I wonder, did your cousin DePayne have a turn of phrase or something she said a lot that sticks in your mind?

MIDDLETON: (Laughter) Well, I mean, I can't think of a particular phrase, but she had an infectious laughter. I can't even describe it. It's this really deep, awkward laugh.


SHAPIRO: Awkward...

MIDDLETON: Well, I can't even talk.

SHAPIRO: Awkward is not the word I would've expected you to use.

MIDDLETON: We often teased one another and we assigned "Sesame Street" characters to one another.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Oh really?

MIDDLETON: I can't reveal which is which (laugher).

SHAPIRO: Well, now that you've said you assigned "Sesame Street" characters to one another, I have to ask.



MIDDLETON: I would be in so much trouble.

SHAPIRO: OK, we will let you keep that little family secret then.

MIDDLETON: But yeah, I mean, I think the heart of who she was was to hold onto our faith and to love our family passionately, unconditionally and unapologetically.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Middleton, I'd like to read you something that you wrote shortly after the shooting. You quoted C.S. Lewis who said (reading) it is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box.

And then you wrote (reading) but suppose your life depended on that invisible rope that is your faith. Today, the weight of that invisible rope tugs at my trembling heart.

How strong did you discover that rope of faith to be?

MIDDLETON: I'm still discovering it. One thing that I know about my family is that we are a family of faith. And I can't generalize what faith means for my entire family. But for me, it is having hope and faith in that unseen. And it truly was tested. I'm still working through holding onto that rope, that invisible rope, and trusting in that unseen because I'm still here somehow. I wasn't really sure how we were going to live beyond the reality of confirming that Dep was one of those persons of the church basement. And yet we're still here. So there's something we're holding on to. There's something we're standing upon. And when I look at her parents and see how they wake up each day, her sisters and see how they make it through each day, there's nothing else that I can point to other than there being a God that's holding us up because there's no other explanation for still being here.

SHAPIRO: That's Reverend Waltrina Middleton. Her cousin, the Reverend DePayne Middleton, was killed during a shooting at a church in Charleston in June of this year. Thank you very much for talking with us.

MIDDLETON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.