Wife of pastor killed in Charleston shooting speaks out 1 year later: 'I still shed tears'

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

'Unimaginable': Wife of pastor killed in 2015 Charleston shooting speaks out

A year after a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina left nine dead, Jennifer Pinckney, whose husband, pastor Clementa Pinckney, was among those murdered, is speaking out for the first time, sharing the harrowing details of how she survived and how her family is moving forward.

Jennifer was in the church's study with one of the couple's then 6-year-old daughter, Malana. While Melana watched TV, Jennifer said she worked on a project for the school library she runs — until she heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots.

"I started hearing gunshots and believe it or not, I know God was with us," Jennifer told NBC's Craig Melvin for TODAY Saturday in an NBC News exclusive.

RELATED: Sen. Clementa Pinckney funeral

35 PHOTOS
Sen. Clementa Pinckney funeral - Charleston, SC shooting
See Gallery
Sen. Clementa Pinckney funeral - Charleston, SC shooting
Pallbearers carry the casket of Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine killed in last week's shooting, into Emanuel AME Church for his wake, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. The first funerals of some of those slain began Thursday at nearby churches with a viewing for Pinckney inside Emanuel on Thursday evening. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral Friday at a nearby college arena. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An image of Sen. Clementa Pinckney decorates the cover of a program distributed to mourners before his funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral Friday at College of Charleston's TD Arena near the Emanuel AME Church, the scene of last week's shooting. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Mourners attend the funeral service for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. Thousands of mourners gathered to hear President Barack Obama pay tribute to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The nine were shot dead at the church during a Bible study session last week in what authorities are investigating as a racially motivated attack.(AP Photo/David Goldman)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: Mourners pay their respects at the funeral service for Sen. Clementa Pinckney at the College Charleston TD Arena for South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney who was killed during the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church along with eight others on June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: Members of the clergy wait to enter the funeral service where U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy for South Carolina State senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was killed along with eight others in a mass shooting June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: Mourners sing gospel hymns during the funeral service where U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy for South Carolina State senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was killed along with eight others in a mass shooting June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: Mourners pray as thousands begin to fill the College Charleston TD Arena on June 26, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy for one of the victims, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, during his funeral Friday at TD Arena. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images)
Doris Simmons, of Charleston, S.C. stands across the street from Emanuel AME Church, the scene of last week's mass shooting, as the sun rises Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy for one of the victims, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, during his funeral Friday at a nearby college arena. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: Mourners hug before the funeral begins at the College Charleston TD Arena where President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy for South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney who was killed during the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church along with eight others on June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
An image of Sen. Clementa Pinckney decorates the cover of a program as mourners embrace before his funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral Friday at College of Charleston's TD Arena near the Emanuel AME Church, the scene of last week's shooting. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An usher talks to a woman before the funeral service for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral Friday at College of Charleston's TD Arena near the Emanuel AME Church, the scene of last week's shooting. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Krislynn Rambert, of Charleston, S.C., wears a button in memory of the victims of last week's mass shooting while waiting on line to enter Sen. Clementa Pinckney's funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral at a nearby college arena. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
RIDGELAND, SC - JUNE 25: Visitors stand in line to pay their respects during an open viewing for Rev. Clementa Pinckney at St. John A.M.E. Church, the church Pinckney attended while growing up, June 25, 2015 in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Pinckney, who was also a state senator, was one of the nine victims killed in last week's shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
RIDGELAND, SC - JUNE 25: Visitors line up to pay their respects during an open viewing for Rev. Clementa Pinckney at St. John A.M.E. Church, the church Pinckney attended while growing up, June 25, 2015 in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Pinckney, who was also a state senator, was one of the nine victims killed in last week's shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: South Carolina Highway Patrol Honor Guard rehearse for the arrival of the coffin of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney to lie in the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: People file past the open casket of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney who will lie in repose at the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
RIDGELAND, SC - JUNE 25: Visitors sign a guest book before attending an open viewing for Rev. Clementa Pinckney at St. John A.M.E. Church, the church Pinckney attended while growing up, June 25, 2015 in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Pinckney, who was also a state senator, was one of the nine victims killed in last week's shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina State Senator who was killed during last week's shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, lies in state inside the rotunda of the capitol building Wednesday, June 24, 2015 in Columbia, S.C. (Gerry Melendez/The State/TNS via Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: People file past the open casket of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney who will lie in repose at the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: People file past the open casket of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney who will lie in repose at the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A detail from South Carolina Department of Public Safety carries the casket of Sen. Clementa Pinckney into the South Carolina State House on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, S.C. (Tracy Glantz/The State/TNS via Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: The South Carolina Statehouse is seen as the coffin of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney lies in state on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: People wait in line to pay their respects before the coffin of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney arrives to lie in the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: People wait in line to pay their respects before the coffin of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney arrives to lie in the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
A South Carolina Highway Patrol honor guard carries Sen. Clementa Pinckney's casket to the Statehouse, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney's open coffin was being put on display under the dome where he served the state for nearly 20 years. He was one of those killed in a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
A South Carolina Highway Patrol honor guard carries Sen. Clementa Pinckney's casket to the Statehouse, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney's open coffin was being put on display under the dome where he served the state for nearly 20 years. Pinckney was one of those killed in a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Sen. Clementa Pinckney's body arrives by horse drawn carriage at the South Carolina Statehouse, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney's open coffin was being put on display under the dome where he served the state for nearly 20 years. Pinckney was one of those killed in a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: As lawmakers, family and friends look on, the South Carolina Highway Patrol Honor Guard carry the coffin of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney to lie in repose at the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: People wait in a long line to enter the Capitol building to pay their respects to church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney who will lie in repose at the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley looks on as she stands with other lawmakers as South Carolina Highway Patrol Honor Guard prepare to carry the coffin of church pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney to lie in repose at the Statehouse Rotunda on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: South Carolina state legislators watch as the procession carrying the casket of Rev. Clementa Pinckney moves down Main Street before a public viewing at the South Carolina State House June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Emanuel AME Church pastor and South Carolina State Sen.Clementa Pinckney's wife Jennifer (C), and two daughters Eliana and Malana, stand in a receiving line at the South Carolina State House on June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. Pressure is growing in South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag that has flies on the front lawn of its State House in Columbia, also alongside a Confederate war memorial. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 24: The family of Rev. Clementa Pinckney greets visitors after paying their respects during an open viewing for Pinckney at the South Carolina State House June 24, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Pinckney was one of nine people killed during a Bible study inside Emanuel AME church in Charleston. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend the funeral which is set for Friday June 26 at the TD Arena. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
South Carolina Highway Patrol honor guard stand over Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s body as members of the public file past in the Statehouse, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral Friday morning at the College of Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Despite a quick thought to leave the office and run for help, Jennifer said she heard the gunshots come closer. "That's when I leaped under the desk with (Melana)," Jennifer said. "She was like 'Momma, is daddy gonna die?'"

Police say that while the mother and daughter silently huddled under the desk, then 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed him and eight others in the church. Jennifer said she thought Roof was trying to get into the office.

More from TODAY: Charleston church shooting survivors on losing loved ones, forgiveness

"He started shaking the knob like he was trying to get in," she said. "And then he apparently turned, and I heard the door chime."

But even though Roof left, the tragedy was far from over for Jennifer, who had called 911 and stayed on the phone with the dispatcher until police arrived.

"I heard the police when they came in say, 'Here's a body,'" she said. "Then I heard them say, 'Tell them to bring in the body bags.'"

More from TODAY: Cousin of Charleston church pastor: Gunman said 'I have to do it'

As police made their way to the study, they found Jennifer and her daughter still hiding until the desk. They carried Malanda outside with her eyes covered, and then it was Jennifer's turn. "There was just something that you can never imagine," she said. "You almost thought you were in a slaughterhouse."

Charleston shooting, 1 year later: Pastor's wife recounts his last moments

And since last June, Jennifer has traveled the country paying tribute to all the victims that night and promoting the foundation she started to advance her husband's work on healthcare and education. She's also become an outspoken advocate for changing gun laws.

She also helped set up a foundation in her husband's honor that helps support poor families in the region through educational, health, pastoral training, and charitable causes. Those interested in supporting the foundation can donate here.

But most of her time is spent raising two young girls who desperately miss their father.

"I think about him every day," Jennifer said. "It's hard. I still shed tears. I still cry. I miss him. He was my soul mate."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners