July 22, 2015


Grieving Gov. Nikki Haley forever changed by church massacre (Jennifer Berry Hawes, Jul 18 2015, Post and Courier)

Throughout the night, until 4:30 a.m., she spoke with SLED Chief Mark Keel as sickening details emerged. Each call "was one more kick in the gut," she recalls.

After learning that Pinckney was dead, along with eight other worshippers, the state's first female governor stepped into her two children's bedrooms, quiet and peaceful at dawn, to tell them she was leaving -- and why. Her husband, Michael, was gone for military training.

Then she walked through the doggy gate at the top of the Governor's Mansion staircase, past formal portraits of President

Andrew Jackson and various governors hanging above her own family snapshots, and past her son's basketball hoop in the flower-lined driveway. About 8:30 a.m., Haley boarded her state airplane to fly to the Holy City, the site of the nation's most recent massacre in a house of worship since a white supremacist killed six Wisconsin Sikhs, the faith of her parents.

The plane was headed toward a nightmare in Charleston, that much she knew.

But Haley didn't yet realize that she also was launching into a new season of her own life. It would force her to shift from a publicly guarded, often rehearsed, on-message partisan to a very human, deeply grieving governor trying to heal a diverse and wounded flock.

With the killer at large, dense heat draped over a command center set up near the historic Emanuel AME Church, an elegant white building on bustling Calhoun Street. First responders, expressions blank with shock and exhaustion, gathered with hundreds of others when Haley arrived early Thursday morning.

Amid the gloom, a piece of good news emerged.

The church's security camera captured a quality image of the likely shooter, a young white man with a bowl cut, and of his car. At 9 a.m., Haley predicted police would capture him by noon. "And we did."

Keel wanted to get his suspect back to town as soon as possible. But police had arrested 21-year-old Dylann Roof a good 250 miles away at the North Carolina border, and the SLED chief had no plane available.

"Take mine," Haley offered.

That evening, when Haley re-boarded the plane, she stepped toward where Roof had sat, forcing her feet forward.

He'd been right there.

Until then, she'd focused on catching the suspect.

Now, with him in custody, she had to lead a grieving state. Satellite TV trucks, hot lights and cameras on, engines rumbling, massed across from the church where memorials formed and crowds gathered to cry and pray.

A news conference loomed with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Police Chief Greg Mullen.

Details were leaking into the public about what happened at that Bible study, around the circular tables, amid the Bibles and prayers. Names of the dead sifted out. So did news of survivors, including a little girl, who had played dead.

"My head was blank," Haley says.

She knew details the public didn't know. They were bad. Details about hate, racial hate, that fueled the killings.

"All I kept thinking is I need to protect the state. And I didn't know how."

With Chief Mullen standing to her right, Mayor Riley to her left, Haley stepped up to a lectern, a woman surrounded by men, her typical set-up.

Then, before a bank of microphones, something changed.

"We woke up today ..." she said. And she paused. Her voiced quivered. Her eyes glanced down as if looking for notes that weren't there. A deeply hurting side of Nikki Haley seeped out as she continued, tears forming.

"The heart and soul of South Carolina was broken. And so we have some grieving to do," she managed. "We've got some pain we've got to go through. Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe -- and that's not something we ever thought we'd deal with."

Local and national media aired her words live. People watched, seeing a Nikki Haley who looked as vulnerable as they felt.

The governor, however, didn't see it that way.

Haley was raised by a tough mother, a lawyer from India who couldn't take a judgeship position because her family considered it inappropriate for a woman. Raj Randhawa taught that there were no tears when kids in Bamberg teased the small town's only Indian family. Get things done, she warned, don't cry about them.

Working in a man's political world only reinforced Haley's need to appear determined, not emotional.

"Women political leaders have to navigate appearing tough enough to do the job as expected and human enough to be 'liked' -- all thanks to prevailing gender stereotypes," says Lynne Ford, a political science professor and associate vice president at the College of Charleston who researches women in politics.

That's especially true, Ford adds, for female politicians like Haley who focus on stereotypical "male" policy areas such as jobs and economic development.

And here was Haley, crying on national TV.

"I was disappointed in myself after the press conference," she concedes. "But with the heaviness of the moment, I was devastated. I knew the state was devastated, and I knew this was going to hurt."

Haley knew early on that she'd attend every funeral, even speaking at them when asked. She wanted each family to feel the state's embrace of support.

"And I felt the need to go for me," she says during a rare moment of quiet in a sitting room at the Governor's Mansion.

Haley wanted to know the nine beyond a list of names.

"I had a need to meet them. I had a need to know, because I knew the forensic story. I knew the investigative part of the story. I needed to know the people."

Posted by at July 22, 2015 8:55 PM

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