Depayne Middleton-Doctor

Depayne Middleton-Doctor and her daughter Gracyn Doctor in a 2013 photo. Middleton Doctor was among the nine people killed Wednesday in the Emanuel AME Church shooting.

Jackie Starkes holds to a treasured memory of her friend of 15 years, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor.

On Easter Sunday three years ago, Starkes went through an emotionally painful time and was so distraught she could not sing with the church choir that day.

She remembers gazing up at Middleton-Doctor in the pulpit.

“Our eyes connected, and she could see what I was going through,” Starkes said.

After the service, the two held each other. No words were necessary, Starkes said, “She can see through your pain.”

She just wishes she could have done something Wednesday night while she helplessly watched the news play out on television.

As the death toll became clear from the apparent racially motivated killings at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, Starkes clung to hope she would not hear her friend’s name.

But that was not to be.

Middleton-Doctor died along with eight others who had gone to the church for an evening Bible study.

They were joined there for almost an hour by Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white man from near Columbia, who then cut them all down in a spray of gunfire, police said.

Starkes can’t make sense of the unthinkable. But she described her friend as living a life dedicated to her Christian faith, “loving God, loving singing and loving her girls.” She is survived by four daughters.

Starkes met her about 15 years ago at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston where they just started talking and hit it off. “We were kindred spirits. We were both mothers with daughters and we fell in love.”

The two also loved to sing in church choirs, and Middleton-Doctor, a minister, has preached in both Baptist and AME churches in the Charleston area.

Starkes said it wasn’t until March of this year that her friend joined Emanuel AME Church.

Middleton-Doctor, 49, retired in 2005 as Charleston County director of the Community Development Block Grant Program.

Last year, she began working for Southern Wesleyan University as admissions coordinator for the school’s Charleston learning center.

SWU President Todd Voss described her as “always a warm and enthusiastic leader,” who believed in the school’s mission to help students achieve their potential by connecting faith with learning.”

“Our prayers go out to family and friends. This is a great loss for our students and the Charleston region.”

Starkes said she will always remember the sound of Middleton-Doctor’s voice:

“So angelic it could move the very depth of your heart... How do you describe an angel?”

Doug Pardue