The brutal massacre of nine worshipers at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church by 21-year-old Dylann Roof on Wednesday night has prompted an outpouring of prayer and demonstrations of unity both in Charleston, N.C. and across the United States.
Chris and Camryn, the children of Sharonda Singleton, one of those killed in the shooting, revealed that while they are mourning the loss of their mother, their Christian faith has enabled them to forgive her killer--less than 24 hours after her death.
"This is a tragedy," Chris told the BBC during a memorial service for the victims, adding that he wants his mother to be remembered as a "God-fearing woman who loved everyone with all her heart."
"We already forgive [Roof] for what he's done, and there's nothing but love from our side of the family...Love is stronger than hate, and that's all I have to say," he told the reporter.
"Charleston will heal from love," Camryn added.
Police have described the murders as a hate crime and arrested Roof, who was pictured on his Facebook page with the flags of apartheid South Africa and white government-era Rhodesia adorned on his jacket. Upon his capture, Roof admitted to killing his victims in an attempt to "start a race war."
After a prayer meeting at the Second Presbyterian Church next door to Emmanuel, Pastor Cress Darwin emphasized that Roof's heinous actions will not prevent the church from reaching out to the local community: "It was an evil that was incomprehensible. But this community is coming together. Because of it we will be more vigilant in terms of our security. But because of who we serve, we will not stop welcoming in the stranger, because death is not the last word," he said, the Guardian reported.
A trustee of Emanuel, William Dudley Gregorie, added: "We're not a church that hates. We're a church that's full of forgiveness. We feel that when you hate, you lose, and you let evil in."
Actor and producer Tyler Perry, who was raised in the historic Charleston church, took to Facebook to express his emotions: "I grew up in the AME Church. My aunt and uncle are pastors and a bishop in the church. I know these kinds of prayer meetings well and I've been in a lot of them! It could have been any of us! The AME church, so close to home for me, so personal. What do you do when you think prayer is not enough? You pray some more. My heart and soul go out to the families of Emmanuel AME church!!
Churches across the United States also opened their doors for prayer, offering their sympathies to the family and friends of those killed.
Rev Antoni Sinkfield, pastor of Great Bethel AME in Nashville, said: "We are standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. There has been a tremendous loss, a heinous act of terror in a place of worship. We are pained by it, and we are grieving the loss."
Many politicians have also addressed the tragedy, expressing particular sorrow that such a horrific crime happened within a place of worship.
Speaking to the nation on Thursday, President Obama said that it was especially heartbreaking when such tragedies happen "at a place where people are seeking peace", describing the historic church as "a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America".
NACCP President Cornell William Brooks said: "There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture. Today I mourn as an AME. minister, as a student and teacher of scripture, as well as a member of the NAACP."
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush released a statement on his campaign website asserting that he and his wife are praying for the Charleston community: "Columba and I mourn today with the Emanuel AME Church and the families of the victims of this terrible crime. Our hearts are broken at the senseless loss of life. Our prayers are for the community that has lost its pastor and a brave leader. May the families and the city of Charleston be lifted up by the prayers of our entire nation."
Another presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, also weighed in on the tragedy, writing, "A church is called a sanctuary because it's a place of refuge and respite from the earthly and connects us to the heavenly. The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. became a scene of unspeakable carnage because an evil person violated the sanctuary where earth and heaven meet and turned it into a place where earth and hell meet. No civilized person can react except with revulsion to such a senseless, cowardly, and despicable act. And for it to happen in one of America's truly great and gentile cities adds to the horror. All Americans join in the condemnation of this act, but for Christians, such horror is especially painful because a holy place for peace and prayer has been infected and desecrated by demonic violence. The prayers that were interrupted by a mass murderer will be continued by a grieving nation."