When former N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte heard on the late news Wednesday that parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were shot in his hometown, he telephoned his oldest sister.
No one answered.
Graham began a frantic search to locate Cynthia Hurd – “a mother figure.”
He refused to talk about her in past tense until Thursday afternoon when he got official confirmation: She was one of nine people killed at prayer meeting Wednesday evening. Hurd would have turned 55 on Sunday.
“She was the one who brought us closer,” Graham said. “It’s so senseless.”
His voice went silent and Graham began to weep. “She was just a beautiful person,” he said between sobs of grief. “She didn’t deserve it.”
Graham gathered in Charleston with his three brothers. The siblings, including the two sisters, grew up attending historic Emanuel AME Church. Their mother sang in the choir. Hurd, he said, was active in the church.
“It would be typical of her to be there,” Graham said. The last anyone had heard from her, she was going to church.
“She was a nerd,” Graham said lovingly. “She was a librarian.”
Hurd was a manager with the Charleston County public library system. She graduated from Clark Atlanta University, Graham said, and got a master’s in library science from the University of South Carolina. She lived with her husband, Steve, in the brick bungalow where Graham grew up on the city’s east side. He moved from Charleston to Charlotte when he went off to college at Johnson C. Smith University.
“She acts like she’s my mother,” Graham said. He last saw her in May when she came to North Carolina for his daughter’s graduation from Winston-Salem State University.
Shock in the neighborhood
On Benson Street, where they grew up, neighbors expressed shock and dismay at Hurd’s death.
“My heart is so full,” said Jane Doris Smith, and she, too, began to weep. “I knew her when she was just a kid. She was wonderful – smart, quiet, a hard worker.”
The neighbors all talked about “her brother – the senator.” (Graham gave up his seat in the legislature to run for Congress in 2014. He lost his bid for the 12th District seat to U.S. Rep. Alma Adams.)
As the neighbors reminisced, Jack O’Brien, their mail carrier, walked up. He had just learned of Hurd’s death.
“I am sick to my stomach,” O’Brien said. “She’s such a lovely lady. She and her husband are both so pleasant.”
Steve Hurd is a longshoreman, Graham said. He said Hurd is on a ship near Saudi Arabia, trying to find a way home.
Staff writers Joe Marusak, David Perlmutt, Jim Morrill and Andrew Dunn contributed.