CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - A few months before Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston, S.C., Bible study and shot and killed nine people, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor joined the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In the late spring of 2015, Middleton-Doctor was on her way to the class, but forgot her Bible. So she went home to get it. That was the last time Hali Doctor saw her mom alive.
“I was going to basketball practice,” Doctor told the Observer this week. “(My mom) came home from work and the last words we heard from her were, ‘I love you.’ And she went to Bible study.”
Doctor, a senior basketball player at Mallard Creek High School, was 13 at the time of the mass shooting. But even after her life was traumatically changed forever, she doesn’t foster any hate towards Roof, the man who murdered her mother. Instead, she has forgiven him.
On June 17, 2015, Roof, then 21, walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and was offered a seat in the Bible study. About 40 minutes later, during a quiet moment, Roof pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and fired more than 70 shots. He killed nine black people, including Middleton-Doctor, a minister at the church who was an admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University, a private Christian school in Central, S.C.
Roof was arrested the next day in Shelby and on Dec. 15, 2016, he was convicted in federal court on 33 charges, including hate crimes. He is on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“That was really hard,” Doctor said of losing her mother at 13. “That’s a time when you’re developing and learning yourself, and to have that one person you depended on not be there and not be able to help you become yourself, it’s really hard.”
After the shooting, Doctor and and her three sisters moved to Charlotte to live with their aunt after she was awarded custody of them. And the pain followed her to Charlotte, too.
“But I got through it, with the help of family,” she said. “The toughest part would be like when my friends would talk about their parents and ask me (about mine), and having to explain what happened. I’m a person who doesn’t like sympathy. I didn’t like the feeling of that, but other than that at first, it was just explaining my story all the time. I’ve gotten used to it now. It doesn’t bother me.”
LOVE, FAMILY AND RED VELVET CAKE
Bethane Middleton-Brown and her older sister were inseparable growing up. Middleton-Doctor was five years older but the two made a pact when they had their own kids that they would raise them together. They would raise them together. When Middleton-Doctor divorced Doctor’s dad, who now lives in Georgia, the two sisters became even closer.
“DePayne used to say my daughter was her child, and vice versa,” Middleton-Brown said. “That made the transition a little easier, as far as being able to deal with her death.”
It was 1:30 in the morning, when Middleton-Brown found out her sister had been shot and killed. She drove to Charleston hours later. She knew her life was about to change.
Middleton-Brown wanted to keep her nieces close together. At the time, one of Doctor’s sisters was graduating high school and was about to head to Charlotte to play volleyball at Johnson & Wales. Another sister was a volleyball player at Johnson C. Smith. All of them really needed each other.
“The first year was very hard,” MIddleton-Brown said. “The first couple of weeks were really hard. Hali and (15-year-old baby sister) Czana had nightmares and crying spells. I’m a therapist, but at the time, I was in my own feelings and didn’t recognize a lot of things that were going with them.”
The girls soon began counseling. Middleton-Brown remembered getting calls from Doctor’s middle school because the teen wanted to sit in the office all day and not be around other kids.
“And then came Thanksgiving,” Middleton-Brown said. “That was the first major holiday (after the shooting). It was scary.”
Middleton-Brown said her older sister always cooked, particularly a red velvet cake she was known for. On Thanksgivings in the past, Middleton-Doctor made turkey and trimmings, plus cabbage and okra soup.
After Thanksgiving came Middleton-Doctor’s Dec. 15 birthday, which was even harder on the family. One of Doctor’s sisters made her mom’s red velvet cake, but no one wanted to eat it.
With time, though, things got better, Middleton-Brown said. The younger sisters weaned themselves off counseling and she marveled at how well-adjusted Doctor has become.
“We were fortunate the night of the murder,” Middleton-Brown said. “Normally (the girls) are with (my sister). You saw her, you saw them. They would call her girls, ‘her little ducklings.’ I can only say it was divine intervention on that. But you ask how can Hali be so well-adjusted now. Hali’s mother drilled into them forgiveness and prayer. They were reared in the church. We come from a family of ministers and they would see how her their mother forgave people and how she carried herself.”
ANOTHER MALLARD CREEK FAMILY AFFECTED BY THE MASS SHOOTING
Doctor wasn’t the only Mallard Creek player affected by the shooting. Former Mavericks’ star Nicole Graham lost her aunt, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd. Graham’s father and Graham Hurd’s brother, Malcolm, is a Charlotte city councilman and a former North Carolina state senator. Graham is an assistant women’s basketball coach at Clark Atlanta University.
Doctor said she found out about the Grahams’ connection to the shooting last year and called it “mind blowing.” Graham, now 25, wanted to get to know Doctor.
“I told her I’d like to mentor her,” Graham said. “This is something that nobody but me and her would understand. I always knew about her, but never put two and two together. I just knew someone on the (Mallard Creek) team had a connection to the church and when I was talking to my dad, I became aware of her. We talked the day she signed” her college scholarship.
Graham’s aunt graduated from Clark Atlanta, and when Graham was picking a school for a graduate transfer season after leaving Brevard College, she chose Clark to honor Graham Hurd.
Graham said she misses her aunt every day and is working on forgiving the man who killed her in that Charleston church five years ago.
“I’m still healing through it all,” Graham said. “It helps to talk to (Doctor) or anybody who has a connection to the church. I feel we have some type of bond. And that was my aunt. I can’t imagine if it were my mom, so that’s a different level, too. Just knowing you can go to church and not come out because somebody is being hateful is hard to imagine. Only somebody else dealing with that would understand.”
HALI DOCTOR FORGIVES DYLANN ROOF
Doctor said she is not mad at Roof anymore. She has forgiven him.
“I’m just not that type of person,” she said. “I forgave him pretty early, a lot earlier than my family members. I guess it was just the way I was raised that has me as I am today.”
Asked what she might say to Roof, if she could speak to him, Doctor paused and thought for a minute.
“I’ve never thought about that,” she said. “I’d want to say, ‘Why?’ I don’t understand how somebody could have that much hatred in them. I would ask why he did everything.”
Mallard Creek coach Clarence Johnson marvels at how strong Doctor is, and how well she’s handled what he called “an impossible situation.”
“Actually, she’s managed this so well that a lot of folk don’t know,” Johnson said, “and as the stories slipped out, they’re like, ‘How can she be so calm and mild-mannered?’ They didn’t see the anger and hate most folk would have going through this type of situation.”
Johnson said Doctor, a 5-11 forward, has also become one of the most important players, on his team. Mallard Creek, No. 2 in the Charlotte Observer’s Sweet 16 poll, beat Northwest Guilford 62-50 in the N.C. 4A state quarterfinals Tuesday night.
TO COLUMBIA COLLEGE, JUST LIKE MOM
Doctor averages eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks. This year, she decided she will major in biology, just like her mom did. She also decided she wants to study at the same college. Doctor’s mother got a bachelors in science from Columbia College in December 1988. She later got a master’s degree in business marketing from Southern Wesleyan.
So, on her own, Doctor made an unannounced visit to Columbia College, an NAIA school in Columbia, S.C. She toured and met the coaches. She impressed them so much, they offered her a scholarship before she sent her game film.
Doctor, who hopes to become an orthodontist, said going to Columbia College and playing basketball there would have made her mom proud. And that, she said, makes her happy.