45ºF

Community seeks healing after church massacre

Governor, citizens mourn 9 gunned down at historic Charleston church

CHARLESTON, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday was different, but no less emotional, because she and others woke up knowing the man accused of killing nine black community leaders during a Bible study at a historic church was behind bars.

Investigators said Dylann Roof, 22, confessed to shooting and killing nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, on Wednesday.

"The Mother Emanuel church family, the AME family, this state of South Carolina, everybody feels this pain," Haley said.

The governor and citizens of South Carolina came to Calhoun Street to remember and mourn the nine victims.

"It just hurts really badly, and everybody I know hurts really badly, so I had to come here to tell them that we're all a community and that we feel this loss as a community," Tera Holwegner said.

Holwegner left a poem she wrote next to the countless bouquets of flowers in a growing memorial in front of the church, on Calhoun Street.

Michelle Myers brought memories of her friend, Cynthia Hurd -- one of the nine people gunned down in the church.

"I couldn't sleep; tossing and turning," Myers said. "I was like, 'Oh, gosh, she's gone.'"

Haley said Roof, the shooting suspect, doesn't represent Charleston, and his case will serve as an example of how she and South Carolina citizens view hate crimes.

"Watch how we handle him -- that will show you how we deal with hate crimes in South Carolina, because you will see that we will push for the death penalty," Haley said. "We will make sure that we do everything we're supposed to, and we will show that that is not acceptable in South Carolina."

Just a few blocks away, NAACP President and CEO the Rev. Cornell William Brooks told those gathered at the group's Charleston headquarters that justice means going deeper than investigating and prosecuting one person.

"Those purveyors of hate, we as Americans will not subscribe to that philosophy. We will not give up. We will not give over," Brooks said. "We have to ask ourselves the question: Is this a matter of a lone shooter with a singular hatred? We have to ask ourselves the question: Can we characterize what happened in the church perpetrated against African-Americans as the values of this country? We have to ask ourselves the question: Is the right terminology 'a lone shooter' or is the right terminology 'a domestic terrorist'?"

Brooks said while the crime committed at the historic church might have happened in minutes, it developed over a long period of time.

"We as a nation have to confront those values. We as a nation have to be very clear: A little bit if racism, a little bit of bigotry, a little bit of bias is not acceptable," Brooks said.

Jake Stephens said he didn't know anyone in the shooting but that the tragedy hits too close to home for him.

In 2012 a fired teacher shot and killed the head of Episcopal School of Jacksonville, the city where Stephens grew up. He later attended Virginia Tech, where a student shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks in 2007. And he now lives in Tucson, where in 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot during a meeting with constituents.

"I used to go to the climbing wall at Episcopal after school when I was in high school, and so they're just all places that I have personal connections to," Stephens said. "Now Charleston, as well."

Sister Margaret Kerry and other sisters walked from their Charleston chapel to pray with and for the members of the AME congregation.

"There's a special section called the offers for the dead, and that section has beautiful prayers from the scriptures," Kerry said. "I drove by here yesterday and I saw all of the people, and I realized there's something about presence -- and even Pope Francis talks about that. He says, 'Go out. Just don't stay where you are. Go out. Be with people. Stay there among people who need help and need faith.'"

Faith that, in the midst of pain, healing will come.