Two years after a white supremacist killed nine black worshippers inside a Charleston, South Carolina, church, one survivor took a special trip to Washington, D.C., and visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been Polly Sheppard’s place of worship for 35 years. Even on June 17, 2015, God was present there, she said.
"That night, it looked like a bright light was in that room, almost like a twilight," Sheppard said.
Dylann Roof shot and killed nine members of her church family at Bible study that night.
She hid under a table, prayed and called 911.
"He's still in here,” she told the dispatcher. “I'm afraid. He's still in here."
Roof told Sheppard he'd let her live so she could tell the story.
Sheppard told News4 God let her live.
"You know how the Lord leaves certain people to do certain things? I don't know exactly what it is, but he left me,” she said. “The rest of them were ready to go. So he took them with him."
Days after the second anniversary of the church massacre, Sheppard visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture -- the last stop of her family reunion. Busloads came from South Carolina and around the country. Sheppard’s cousin, Annie Haskins of Fort Washington, Maryland, planned the museum visit.
"The highlight of our reunion was coming here to the museum,” Haskins said.
A history buff, Sheppard started her museum tour at the beginning: Slavery.
"I had the feeling of reverence, almost like you're in church," she said.
She found the slavery exhibit the most striking.
"You were amazed at the shackles and everything from slavery time," she said.
That exhibit prompted memories of the church massacre.
“I don't think about it that often, but sometimes when I see different things, different triggers, you know, it comes back to me," she said.
In May, a noose was found on the floor in front of a display about the Ku Klux Klan inside a segregation exhibit. Another was found outside the Hirshhorn Museum, also on the National Mall.
On June 17, exactly two years since the Charleston massacre, a noose was found hanging near the National Gallery of Art.
"We have so far to go,” Sheppard said. “We came a long way, but it's still not enough."
She believes the National Museum of African American History and Culture can help bridge understanding.
"You have everybody coming here, and they can see where we come from and how far we've gotten, so maybe we'll have the country together after a while," she said.
Sheppard is in counseling. She said visiting the museum was therapeutic, and she’ll continue her mission to “tell the world how good God is.”