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They came back stronger than ever.
Almost 100 people turned out for the first Wednesday night Bible study at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church since its pastor and eight other people were gunned down exactly a week ago at the South Carolina landmark.
"The room was immaculate. The feeling was spiritual and uplifting," a beaming Marlene Coakley-Jenkins, whose sister Myra Thompson was among last week's victims, said after the session.
"We know that everything that we did and everything that happened in that room just reverberated the love that we've been taught since we were children," Coakley-Jenkins said.
The room showed no indication that a crime had been committed there — except for squares cut out of the wood paneling that covers the walls of the room and the foyer. Some churchgoers told NBC News that investigators cut out the areas where the bullets struck.
In place of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's slain pastor, the study session was led by the Rev. Norvel Goff, presiding elder of the Edisto District of the state conference of the AME Church.
Attendees told NBC News he took them on a parable-filled tour from the Old Testament through the New Testament that left them simultaneously crying and rejoicing.
"Everyone just laughed," said another of Thompson's sisters, Claudette Coakley-Watkins, a Charleston schoolteacher. "It's been a beautiful gathering for all of us, and the love that's been pouring out — it's more than we could ask for.
"The love for one another was wonderful," she said.
Coakley-Jenkins, who lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, acknowledged that she was "hurt" and "angry." But she said she and her sisters were determined not to give in to hatred — "that's not going to happen," she said.
"We can't allow hate to replace everything that our parents instilled into us," she declared.
"Love is always hard," she said. "Don't you know that?"
Terry Pickard and Erika Angulo contributed to this report from Charleston, South Carolina.