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Charleston Church Shooting: Thousands Gather to Honor Victims

Charleston Mayor Wants Museum Exhibit in Honor Emanuel AME Church 1:11

Thousands of people joined the families of nine victims who were gunned down during a Bible study at a historic African-American Charleston church for a vigil Friday night that included prayer, singing, encouraging words and calls for action.

"Everyone old and young, all colors all religions, all backgrounds, all neighborhoods, all walks of life; we all have one thing in common — our hearts are broken," said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. of the community and country's grief following the devastating Wednesday shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Riley said the shooter, Dylann Roof, was a "hateful, deranged young man," who "thought he was going to divide this community or divide this country with his racism and hatred."

"We are here to say he measurably failed," Riley said. "He failed because in our broken hearts we realize we love each other more."

"We must never forget ... we must keep the emotion that we feel so strongly now," Riley told those who gathered in a Charleston sports arena Friday night to sing and pray and mourn the lives of Emanuel's Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight of the church's parishioners.

Family members in attendance were asked to stand, and the crowd, representing a variety of races and ages and holding roses of varying colors, stood with them and applauded as a symbol of support.

Image: Nine Dead After Church Shooting In Charleston
Barbara Lloyd (2nd L) and others join hands during a prayer vigil at the TD Arena on June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

"The complication of your circumstance is that the one who would be giving you solace, giving you words of encouragement, the evil took his life, too," Charity Missionary Baptist Church's Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III, told the families. "The church where you would be preparing for the homecoming celebration is not available to you," he added.

"Whatever you need from us, we commit to you right now, that whatever you need from clergy — you count it done," Rivers said.

Rivers also urged the state's lawmakers to remove a Confederate flag, which has become a point of contention in the community, from the grounds of the statehouse. Police consider the shooting a hate crime, and investigators say Roof made a "racially inflammatory statement" to a survivor before he left.

"If you want to do a living testimony to these nine lives, you will take that flag down. You will take it down," Rivers urged passionately.

Riley had a message about gun control to get across during the service. "We must encourage a national discussion. There’s got to be a better way," he said. President Barack Obama, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier in the evening, delivered a similar message.

Other clergy members and state leaders at the vigil said the violence unleashed Wednesday was a shocking reminder of ugly legacy of racial violence in the South.

"It’s just heart-wrenching to know that the same hate that murdered four African American girls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama, is the same hate that murdered nine African American men and women praying and studying 52 years later," said Rabbi Stephanie M. Alexander of Kabal Kdosh Beth Elohim in Charleston. "The love in which we come together tonight is, must be, and will be stronger."

The service concluded with the anthem "We Shall Overcome."

"Our dream, our hope is that what happened at Emanuel will never ever happen again," said Rivers before the choir started singing. "I’m longing for the day where we look back and say 'well, we did overcome.'"