MANKATO, Minn. (WCCO) — Edmond Robinson called his mom, but she didn’t answer.
He was in Eden Prairie, more than 1,300 miles from home. The Vikings had had minicamp practice that morning.
And the rookie linebacker, the first player from tiny Division-II Newberry College drafted in 41 years when the Vikings picked him in the 7th round, had nearly put another day pursuing his NFL dream behind him.
It was after 8 o’clock in the evening when his eyes met the words on his computer screen, and he reached for his phone.
“I was looking on Facebook,” Robinson told WCCO after a recent training camp practice. “And I saw a lot of people posting, like, pray for Charleston. And I was wondering what happened. And I saw that Emanuel AME Church was shot.”
His mother, Ann, was the pastor at Emanuel AME Church in the West Ashley area of Charleston.
“The pastor got shot, so I was thinking that my mom may have gotten shot,” Robinson said. “So a lot of things started going through my mind.”
As he read further, he learned that a man had attended evening prayer service at Emanuel, before opening fire and murdering nine churchgoers, the pastor among them.
At the other Emanuel AME Church, of the same name, in downtown Charleston.
“I was relieved,” Robinson said, “for a moment.”
But his relief was mixed with grief, because Robinson was connected to that church too.
“It hit close to home,” he said. “And this is probably one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever been a part of.”
He’d attended services at the downtown church, which locals referred to as “Mother Emanuel”, while his mother was a pastoral intern and assistant pastor there twice over three years, starting when he was in high school.
“So we was well acquainted with that church,” Robinson said. “We often went there to hear her speak.”
His mother knew all of the victims.
Robinson himself knew two of them personally: Pastor Sharonda Coleman-Singleton – a close friend of his mother’s – and Senior Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who had given Edmond a word of encouragement when he left home for Minnesota in May.
It was the last time they spoke.
“I knew Reverend Pickney, I knew him,” Robinson said. “The last thing I said to him was actually before I came to camp. And he just wanted to let me know, he was like, ‘I’m praying for you and you’re gonna be alright.'”
Though he was far from home, Robinson watched what happened in the wake of the shooting with interest, as his state confronted its long history of racial issues.
The attack was racially motivated. The gunman had hoped it would ignite a race war. Instead, it started a movement, as stores, organizations, and eventually the South Carolina State House itself removed the confederate flag, which for decades had flown in the face of African-Americans pained by its presence.
“It was something definitely that needed to come down, because it stood for slavery and everything,” Robinson said. “I believe it was the best thing for the state.”
Robinson says the shooting changed him, too. Framing the way he looks at everything now, especially as he approaches each day in training camp, trying to earn a spot on the Vikings roster.
“It just makes me think that I should enjoy life, and enjoy everything that I’m being a part of,” he said. “Like, being one of the first guys (from Newberry) to be drafted and stuff, I shouldn’t take it for granted. Because I could be gone tomorrow.”
During the Vikings’ month off in July, Robinson returned to Charleston and headed to the church. He didn’t go inside. But he stood out front and paid his respects, and signed his name on a memorial.
A visit that he says really impacted him.
“I said a prayer while I was out there, for the families,” Robinson said. “And to pay respect to the nine lives that were lost there. And it’s always something that will be in the back of my mind. … I will always be connected to that church.”
Dylann Roof, the man charged with the shooting, is scheduled to begin trial next July. At his first court appearance, relatives of the victims all, one by one, told Roof they forgave him.
Robinson says that response is consistent with the kind of place he knew the church to be.
“I don’t think they need to dwell on what happened,” he said. “I think it’s just the best thing to continue to move forward and do what they can, and bring everyone together and show that (just) because something like this happened we don’t have to be divided, that we can come back together and keep looking forward to better days.
“We are praying for each other. So everything’s going to be alright.”