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Charleston church under fire for mass shooting payouts

CHARLESTON, S.C. - The Charleston church where nine African-Americans were shot in what police say were racist killings has given $1.5 million of about $3.4 million in donations to family members of the victims.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is keeping about $1.8 million of donations for building maintenance, an endowment and a scholarship fund, the Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

The money was donated to the church in the months after the shootings last June. Church leaders say only $280,000 worth of donations specified the money go to the victims' families, and the church decided to add more than $1 million to those gifts, said Wilbur Johnson, the church's attorney.

An additional $78,000 was specified for the Charleston Hope Fund and was sent to the city of Charleston, Johnson said.

Some family members are upset the church kept more than it gave the families.

Arthur Hurd's wife Cynthia died in the shootings. He sued the church, saying it was being too secretive about donations. The lawsuit was dropped after Emanuel AME turned over documents to his lawyer.

Hurd said his check for $50,000 was less than he expected and the letter gave no details on how the money was divided.

"I feel like it says, 'Take this and shut up,' " Hurd said.

The family members received a form letter along with their checks in certified letters this week.

"It's just sad how the church continues to disrespect the families," said the Rev. Sharon Risher, whose 70-year-old mother Ethel Lance died in the shooting.

The nine victims were shot to death during a Bible study at the church June 17. Police said Dylann Roof was motivated by hatred for blacks and wanted to start a race war. He is awaiting a death penalty trial in state court.

The Charleston Hope Fund has already distributed more than $3 million in donations according to a formula that splits 55 percent of donations equally among the nine victims' beneficiaries, 25 percent among the five shooting survivors, 10 percent among children of those killed, 5 percent to education expenses and 5 percent to a special needs account.

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