“I will say that this is an unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in this most historic church, an evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told reporters, according to the Post and Courier. Mullen went further in his remarks, saying,“I do believe this was a hate crime.”
As news of the shooting spread, locals gathered in the streets surrounding the church in an impromptu prayer session for the victims. By noon on Thursday, hundreds had gathered in local churches and on nearby streets to commemorate the dead, the Post and Courier said.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley issued her condolences after news of the shooting broke. “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” she said in a statement.
“Michelle [Obama] and I know several members of Emanuel A.M.E. Church,” President Barack Obama said at a White House press conference. “To say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel. Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about that happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.”
In his remarks, Obama linked the killings to a pattern of gun violence in the U.S.:
I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now’s the time for mourning and for healing, but let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it’d be wrong for me not to acknowledge it. And at some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
The Iconic History of the Church
The targeting of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal is particularly significant given its history and symbolism. One of the people killed was Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and Methodist pastor at the church, and the youngest African African ever elected to South Carolina’s legislature. In a 2013 lecture posted on YouTube, Pinckney spoke about Emanuel A.M.E.’s significance to Charleston and the nation.