CHARLESTON: Thousands of mourners clutching red and white roses attended a vigil in the stunned city of Charleston on Friday (Saturday in Manila) to remember nine African-American men and women shot dead by a suspected white supremacist.
Holding hands, many with tears in their eyes, people sang the protest-anthem “We Shall Overcome” in response to the carnage at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, as suspected gunman Dylann Roof was charged with nine murders and ordered to be held without bond earlier Friday.
Roof, 21, reportedly said he “wanted to start a race war,” while gunning down the nine black worshippers, an act authorities are treating as a hate crime and investigating as possible “domestic terrorism.”
The Wednesday night shooting was the worst attack on a US place of worship in decades and comes at a time of revived racial tensions in many parts of the country.
But the response from the community and even victims’ families has been one of “love,” as the genteel coastal city comes to terms with the tragedy.
Tearful relatives came forward at Roof’s bond hearing expressing their grief and forgiveness toward the alleged shooter who appeared through video link.
At the vigil held at the College of Charleston TD Arena, community leaders expressed similar messages of faith and compassion, and said the tragedy will not drive a racial divide through the city.
“We come together this evening in prayer and love,” said Mayor Joseph Riley, who shared the stage with several of Charleston’s leading religious leaders.
Charleston’s pipe and drum band played the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace,” be- fore Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy appealed for community unity.
“Our hearts are broken. We have an anguish that we never had before,” said Riley.
Roof appeared on screen in court from an adjacent jail block for a 14-minute bail hearing, flanked by two guards in dark body armor.
He was dressed in standard prison garb and appeared subdued, bowing his head slightly, as Judge James Gosnell asked him his age and if he had a job.
A detective confirmed Roof had two previous run-ins with the law for trespassing and a pending drug possession charge.
Families mourned deceased loved ones as the bail hearing took place.
“Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But he was my hero,” said mother Felicia Sanders at the hearing.
Others pledged to forgive the suspected shooter.
“I forgive you and God have mercy on your soul,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, 70, a lifelong member of the Emanuel church.
Several media outlets reported that Roof confessed to investigators that he walked into “Mother Emanuel”—one of the oldest black churches in the country—and opened fire on a Bible study class.