SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This weekend, the city of Charleston is remembering the nine people who were killed this week in one of the South's oldest black churches. The U.S. Justice Department says it will investigate the case as both a hate crime and a possible act of domestic terrorism. The suspect, 20-year-old Dylann Roof, heard from victims' families yesterday in a video court appearance from the county jail. And last night, there was a call for unity at a community prayer vigil. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMAZING GRACE")
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The Charleston Police Pipes and Drums played "Amazing Grace" as they led a somber procession in a downtown arena where hundreds came to pray and remember those killed at Emanuel AME Church.
REV NELSON B. RIVERS: We're here to encourage the nine families.
ELLIOTT: The Reverend Nelson B. Rivers of Charity Missionary Baptist Church led the service.
RIVERS: To acknowledge and wrestle with what ought be done and what must be done about the violence that took nine lives while they studied the word of God and fellowship.
ELLIOTT: Charleston's mayor of 40 years, Joseph Riley, said, our hearts are broken, and we have an anguish like never before.
MAYOR JOSEPH RILEY: But if that young man thought he was going to divide this community or divide this country with his racial hatred, we are here today and all across America, resoundingly saying he measurably failed.
ELLIOTT: Riley did not shy away from the political debates reignited by the tragedy. Easy access to handguns is a complicated constitutional issue, he said, but there's got to be a better way.
RILEY: We don't want to live in a country where you need a security guard for Bible study. That's not right, and that's not American.
ELLIOTT: Reverend Rivers used the pulpit to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the capital grounds in Columbia - something civil rights groups have been fighting for for decades.
RIVERS: Members of the House, members of the Senate, if you want to do a living testimony to these nine lives, you will take that flag down. You will take it down.
ELLIOTT: The evening ended with audience members, black and white, joining hands for a familiar anthem of the civil rights movement, a song that has deep roots in South Carolina.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE SHALL OVERCOME")
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) We shall overcome.
ELLIOTT: Afterwards, Charles Miller called the service uplifting. His cousin Daniel Simmons was among those killed at Emanuel AME.
CHARLES MILLER: We're just saddened that there are people that really harbor hatred in their hearts for others. And I prayed as we ended the last song that we shall overcome one day. I'm praying for that.
ELLIOTT: The investigation into just what led to the mass shooting is underway. More details surfaced when police released Dylann Roof's arrest warrant. It says he spent an hour in Bible study at the church before, quote, "the defendant stood up and, with malice and aforethought, pulled out a handgun and began shooting the parishioners." Prior to leaving the room, it said, he stood over a witness and uttered a racially inflammatory statement. In a bond hearing, a state judge gave relatives of the nine victims an opportunity to testify. Dylann Roof, appearing by video from jail, looked blankly into the camera as they directed their words toward him, offering forgiveness. Alana Simmons said although her grandfather Daniel Simmons and his fellow church members were killed in hate...
ALANA SIMMONS: ...Hate won't win.
ELLIOTT: That will be the living legacy of the Emanuel victims. In a statement, Roof's family said they were touched by the moving words in the face of such horrible suffering. They said, quote, "words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief." Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.