Charleston's 'Mother Emanuel' church holds 1st service since shooting
Following worship, thousands march across city's main bridge in show of unity
Members of a historic black church worshipped at their sanctuary Sunday for the first time since a gunman opened fire at a Bible study, killing nine people, and uniformed police officers stood among the congregation as a measure of added security.
The service started with a message of love, recovery and healing, which will no doubt reverberate throughout churches across the country.
- Charleston church in mourning to hold Sunday service
- Hate crime, gun crime? Does it matter?
- The historical significance of Charleston's 'Mother Emanuel' church
"We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?" Rev. Norvel Goff said. The congregated responded with a rousing "Yes."
"But prayer not only changes things, it changes us," Goff said.
Sunday morning marked the first service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church since Dylann Roof, 21, sat among a Bible study group and opened fire after saying that he targeted them because they were black, authorities said. Among the nine killed was the church pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
Despite grim circumstances the congregation has been faced with, the welcoming spirit Roof exploited before the shooting is still alive, church members said.
"I think just because of what people have gone through emotions are definitely heightened, not just in Charleston but with anyone going to church because it is such a sacred place, it is such a safe place," Shae Erdos, 29, said after a multiracial group of women sang "Amazing Grace" outside the church Saturday afternoon.
- Confederate flag only belongs in museum
- Shooting victims include church leaders and state senator
- Roof silent during statements from families of Charleston shootings victims
"To have something like that completely shattered by such evil — I think it will be in the back of everyone's heads, really," said Erdos, who planned on attending Sunday service in nearby Mount Pleasant.
The suburb is connected to Charleston by the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which thousands of people marched across in a show of unity Sunday night.
Crowds gathered on either side of the bridge around dusk and then met toward the middle of the span. Part of the bridge was closed as people were walking, chatting and taking pictures.
When the marchers from the Mount Pleasant side and the Charleston side met on the bridge, there was clapping and singing of "This Little Light of Mine."
The bridge's namesake is a former state lawmaker and a vocal Confederate flag supporter.
Roof had been photographed with the flag several times before the shooting.
For the family of Cynthia Hurd, Sunday's service was especially poignant. Hurd, a longtime librarian, would have been celebrating her 55th birthday and was planning a trip to Virginia with her siblings.
"Sunday will not be a sad day for me; it will be a celebration for me. It will be a celebration for our family because our faith is being tested," Hurd's younger brother Malcolm Graham said Friday. "She was in the company of God trying to help somebody out. She was where she needed to be."
Victim, 87, sang in choir
Felicia Breeland, an 81-year-old lifelong Emanuel member, said she sang in the choir with Susie Jackson, 87, who was also fatally shot Wednesday.
"It's going to be sad. She sits right on the front row, too," Breeland said. "She had a very soft soprano voice. It was beautiful."
Washington said he expected a tearful, emotionally charged gathering.
"I hope we'll be much stronger. I think we will because it brings people together. For how long? I'm not sure. But at least for right now we're very well galvanized," he said. "We didn't miss a Sunday."
Manifesto found on website
Meanwhile, the FBI said it was investigating a manifesto purportedly written by the suspected gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
The website linked to Roof contained photos of him holding a burning American flag and standing on one. In other images, he was holding a Confederate flag, considered a divisive symbol by civil rights leaders and others.
The hate-filled 2,500-word essay talks about white supremacy, and the author says "the event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case" — the unarmed black teenager fatally shot by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman while walking home in Florida in 2012.
Roof is being held in jail, facing nine counts of murder and a weapons charge.
A police affidavit released Friday accused Roof of shooting all nine multiple times and making a "racially inflammatory statement" as he stood over an unidentified survivor.