South Carolina

Charleston residents, visitors mourn for victims of church shooting

Women pray together Thursday at a makeshift memorial on the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Women pray together Thursday at a makeshift memorial on the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. AP

Sadness and a heat wave settled in on the Holy City’s peninsula Thursday.

While rickshaw drivers pedaled their carts, looking for red-faced tourists in need of rides, mourners moved with heavy hearts through the city, near a historic black church where nine victims were shot dead Wednesday night.

Residents brought flowers to a police barricade at Calhoun and Elizabeth streets, a block away from where police say a gunman entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, was welcomed into a Bible study and opened fire an hour later.

“My God, a holy sanctuary. You’re talking about a pastor. You’re talking about innocent people praying to their God,” said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston.

Not far away from Emanuel – whose founders included Denmark Vesey, who launched a historic slave rebellion in the city nearly two centuries ago – business and tourism buzzed along as usual.

Shopkeepers greeted tourists drawn to the city for his historic charm and world-class restaurants.

But the tragedy still was on their minds.

“With the social climate these days, it’s not as surprising as it would have been 10 years ago,” said Lunden Herron, who manages a clothing store on King Street.

But, she added, “I’m ready to feel safer in public and not have to worry about someone toting around a gun and shooting up a church or my place of business any time they want.”

“It’s kind of sad and scary that something like that happened right there,” Lowell Stevenson of Sumter said. “You think that being at a church is like being at home. You think you go into the house of the Lord that it’s protected, and the doors are always open.”

Ashlee Tran and Alison Joseph – two Yale graduates on vacation – stood near a vendor selling Charleston’s iconic sweet-grass baskets taking calls about the tragedy.

“It was scary last night to walk out of dinner and see the streets blocked off and the police helicopters circling,” Joseph said.

“It’s been shocking that this could happen here.” But, she added, “At the same time, it sort of feels like this keeps happening, and no matter where you are, it’s sort of a universal tragedy.”

That feeling, that such a shooting could happen anywhere, hit home Thursday, just as the conversation among the angry and bereaved shifted toward a search for answers.

Some said more gun control is needed.

“God has given us the common sense to come up with (gun-control laws), but it’s man who has refused to implement what’s right,” said Charleston resident Anice Carr.

Dimitri Cherny said he saw Wednesday’s violence as a result of South Carolina’s culture of honoring the Confederacy, including the flag that flies on the State House grounds.

But others who joined the grieving in Charleston’s streets expressed a more hopeful outlook.

Kim Hamby and her 4-year-old daughter, Kayla, placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial near Emanuel church.

Hamby, a Charleston resident, said she came to a realization while praying earlier Thursday: The Emanuel AME Church shooting victims would not die in vain.

“We’re mourning with the families, but there’s peace. There’s a covering of peace over this city,” Hamby said.