Walterboro, SC residents, pastors kneel in prayer after death of young girl

People prayed through tears and pastors fell to their knees and asked for forgiveness and strength on behalf of Walterboro.

Thursday evening, a crowd of between 200 and 300 people gathered in the heart of Walterboro’s downtown at a park for a prayer vigil. Community spiritual leaders organized the service to bring the town together in the wake of recent violence.

“If we can come together as one we can be effective,” said Eric J. Campbell, one of more than a dozen pastors who encouraged their churches to come out to the vigil. “We can’t be effective if we’re always divided. That’s always been a problem.”

The pastors’ praised the diversity of black and white believers of varying denominations for being unified at the vigil.

Though the service came a day after the death of RaNiya Wright, a 10-year-old girl at Forest Hill Forest Elementary who died after a fight, the service didn’t address specific community issues. Rather, it was meant to offer a time for introspection.

The reflective mood contrasted with an angry rally outside a school board meeting only hours before.

Campbell, along with Pastor Zane Brown, led the group to look inward for the source of violence in Walterboro.

“This is our fault,” Brown said. “This is the fault of the people of God not being the people of God.”

The declaration brought “Amens” from the crowd.

Brown said he would ask the pastors and the crowd to do something they typically don’t do and he went down on both knees, followed by all the church leaders and many in the crowd.

In a long prayer, Brown offered scripture that encouraged people to “turn from their wicked ways.”

Campbell also offered a long prayer that included words for RaNiya, her mother and family, the other student involved in the fight and family as well as all of Colleton County and its public officials.

Campbell referred to the main pathways from Interstate 95 into Colleton County and prayed to Jesus about watching over the community.

“Exit 57 is covered in your blood,” Campbell said. “Exit covered in your blood.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham also attended the event, saying that he and his wife, Amanda, wanted to show the community and RaNiya’s family that they care.

“We love them,” Cunningham said. “We’re here to show our support during the midst of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”

The service and RaNiya’s death brought Gloria Brown to tears. A middle school teacher in Colleton County, Brown spent her childhood going through the county’s schools. RaNiya’s death has brought much into perspective, Brown said.

“I came back here to teach in the community I love,” she said. “The problems here are complex. But it’s not like it’s different from any cities. … This tragedy has just brought light to a systematic problem in the United States.”

Timika Crosby, pastor of Greater New Jerusalem Church of Walterboro, called the event “beautiful.”

“It was needed,” she said. “It was needed to show you don’t cry alone.”

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.