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A Step Toward Closure

Daughter of Charleston shooting victim takes on life after college

Gracyn Doctor, who graduated nearly a year ago, plans to stay in Charlotte, North Carolina, to work and study for several years. Once her sisters are more independent, she hopes to find a new city and a new path. SUBMITTED BY Gracyn Doctor

In front of a judge and a packed courtroom, Gracyn Doctor told Dylann Roof to go to hell. She stared at the slim stranger and told him he was Satan himself.

He refused to look at her, not even a glance.

Doctor unburdened herself, finally, during that January sentencing hearing in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof and his gun and its bullets had taken away her mother, DePayne Middleton Doctor, a year and a half earlier in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He forced Gracyn and her three sisters into a new life laden with grief and doubt, as chronicled in “Surviving Hate,” published in Champion’s Spring 2016 issue. Gracyn was elated Roof had been found guilty. Later, after she addressed him, he was sentenced to death. But catharsis proved fleeting — as she left the courtroom, her loss overshadowed the small victory.

“I was really happy: One, this is over with and, two, justice has been served,” Gracyn says. “But at the same time, I’m thinking, ‘I’m still here. I still have to come to this.’”

Though she attended nearly every day of the trial, Gracyn’s new life has not been defined by court dates and sentencing hearings, nor by the man who slew her mother. The former volleyball player received her degree in sport management from Johnson C. Smith last May. She has her eyes set on graduate school: first, she hopes, a Master of Business Administration, then, perhaps, a graduate degree in African-American studies. She is ready for a future unbound by her past — unbound by him.

She still wears the lapel pin bearing her mother’s face and name, but not every day as she once did. The pin sparks questions, which spark memories she would rather visit only when she’s willing. She needs people to know her as a college graduate with aspirations of starting her own business, not as a victim. “I don’t want it to be the first thing we talk about,” she says.

In the wake of her mother’s death, Gracyn strained to remain stalwart for three younger sisters. But after college she realized she had abandoned her own needs while trying to help her scarred siblings mend. So she allowed her aunt to bear more of the burden and untethered herself for the summer. A road trip from North Carolina to New York. A music festival. A conference in Miami. Quiet time hiking in the mountains, where she could contemplate her traumas and her aspirations at no one’s behest but her own.

“They’re my little sisters. When something happens, of course I want to step in and try to save the day,” Gracyn says. “But you’ve got to save yourself, too.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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