Saunders dedicates performance to victims

Baptized at Emanuel AME, ex-Burke star Raven Saunders will dedicate her performance at the USATF Outdoor nationals to the shooting victims there. (Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian)

Baptized at Emanuel AME Church as a young girl, Raven Saunders has watched the news of the past week with a broken heart.

“It was just disbelief, and then heartbreak,” said Saunders, the former Burke High School track and field star.

That’s why Saunders, a two-time NCAA champion in the shot put, will dedicate her next performance to the nine victims of the shootings at Emanuel AME last week.

She plans to wear a shirt with the inscription “Holy City Nine” as she competes Thursday at the USATF Outdoor Senior Nationals in Eugene, Oregon.

“I just had my aunt send me the shirt,” Saunders said. “It will be my tribute to the nine who were killed.”

Saunders, who just finished her freshman season at Southern Illinois, said she and her younger sister were baptized at Emanuel AME. Her grandmother and aunt knew several of the victims, including Goose Creek track coach Sharonda Singleton, a minister at the historic church.

“It’s hard to believe something of that magnitude happened there,” Saunders said. “But I feel like through this some good is happening, seeing so many people come together. It’s sad it took something so terrible. But I feel it’s God’s plan for people to come together and discuss the problems so we can avoid something like this happening again.”

Saunders won the NCAA indoor and outdoor shot put titles this season.