‘You don’t hear weeping’ in house of Emanuel victims’ family

Family members of Tywanza Sanders ‘feel like there’s meaning’ in push for Confederate flag removal

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SHELBY DEL VECCHIO
  • Shelby Del Vecchio

One family that lost three members in last week's mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church is handling their loss with grace, according to a lawyer who has been with the family.

Attorney Andy Savage says he has spent several hours recently in the house of Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting after seeing her 27-year-old son Tywanza Sanders, her husband's 87-year-old aunt Susie Jackson, and her 70-year-old relative Ethel Lance killed in the church during an evening Bible study.

"You go to the house, you don't hear weeping and wailing," says attorney Andy Savage, who describes himself as a friend of the Sanders family. "You hear children playing and their little feet going up and down the stairs, and you hear hugs and kisses and pretty low-key conversation. There's not a whole lot of angst, there's not a whole lot of trepidation, there's not a lot of calls for retribution, none of what one might expect and understand if they were angry and upset. That doesn't mean it doesn't have meaning, the loss of life. It cuts to the heart deeply."

Savage is not representing the Sanders family in court, but he says he has been giving them legal guidance in the wake of the shooting. "We're not suing anybody. We're not trying to prosecute anybody," he says.

According to Savage, news media have been trying to interview Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting along with her 11-year-old granddaughter, but an interview won't happen any time soon. He says Sanders will likely be a key witness in the pending murder case, in which Dylann Roof faces nine murder charges.

Less than 48 hours after the shooting took place, Felicia Sanders and other family members of people who died in the shooting addressed Roof at a bond hearing Friday, with many offering forgiveness and praying for his soul. "Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same," Felicia Sanders said. "Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you."

Savage says that the Sanders family's grace, while shocking to many, came as no surprise to people who knew them well.

"I think a lot of us that don't really understand that, it's because this was not out of context for the way they think," Savage says. "This is how the Sanders family — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all their lives — that's who they are. I think those of us that knew them would have been surprised if they had come out with anger and condemnation. That's just not who they are."

Savage says Sanders has given credit to God for her survival.

"Felicia was sitting there, watched her son shot, she watched her auntie shot, she watched everybody else shot, and she says [it was] the hand of God — 'I don't remember getting under the table; it was the hand of God. I don't know how I got under the table. I don't know how I survived,'" Savage says. "So she's not taking any ownership of any valiant act, and she's not saying how she did something special to protect herself or her grandchild. She just says, 'It was the hand of God.'"

On Monday, when state and local leaders including Gov. Nikki Haley and Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds — an idea that has gained political momentum since the shooting last week — Savage says he was with the Sanders family, and they were smiling.

"You just see the smiles on their faces, and they're just basically joyful people in a spiritual sense. They're very joyful people," Savage says. "I wouldn't say they're giggly and happy about the decision to take down the flag, but they feel like there's meaning in that."