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Church shooting survivor gives scholarships to prison nurses

Flowers line the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Linda O'Bryon
FILE - Flowers line the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC., June, 2015.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — One of the survivors of a racist massacre at an African American church in South Carolina has started giving out scholarships from her foundation to students who want to provide health care to prisoners.

Polly Daniels Sheppard set aside money from speaking engagements and other events to create the Polly Sheppard Foundation, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

Sheppard was one of five people inside Emanuel AME church to survive in June 2015 when a racist sat through Bible study, then shot and killed nine members of the church.

Sheppard called 911 as dozens of bullets were being fired and the shooter told her he would let her live so she could tell the world what happened. That call was played at the trial of a man who was sentenced to death for the killings.

Sheppard worked as a nurse at the Charleston County jail for 14 years and said she was bothered that there was always a lack of health workers with compassion for the people they might be helping behind bars.

"You actually meet some interesting people in jail," Sheppard told the newspaper, "And over half of them are not actually criminals."

Sheppard's foundation is giving the nearly $6,000 scholarship through Trident Technical College. Nikki Walker received the first award in August and is scheduled to graduate in a few weeks. The 34-year-old mother is a former jail officer who hopes her new medical career will help her care for a daughter with health issues as well as inmates.

Walker plans to start her career as a nurse at the Medical University of South Carolina before moving on to a prison and then maybe becoming a sexual assault nursing examiner.

"Just because you are in jail doesn't mean you don't deserve adequate care," Walker said. "No one is immune from making one bad choice."