CHARLESTON — In an old house of worship and faith, disbelief reigned supreme on Thursday afternoon.
Disbelief that such evil exists in the world.
Disbelief that this has happened again in America, the latest in a long line of mass shootings.
Hundreds gathered at Morris Brown AME church in downtown Charleston for a vigil in honor of nine people shot to death last night in the basement of Emanuel AME Church, just blocks away.
The vigil featured a spectrum of emotions. Feelings oscillated between sadness, rage, anger, and joy throughout the nearly two hour-ceremony. Local religious and political leaders, as well as hundreds packed inside the stuffy church on a hot and humid day, were resolute that the mass murder would unite the community.
“He was hoping to divide our state and country,” Gov. Nikki Haley told the church, “but all he’s going to do is bring us closer.”
Haley praised those who squeezed into the church pews to express their support for the victims.
“This is neighbors loving neighbors, people taking care of people, all of us saying no more,” she said.
Outside the church, people gathered too under the hot June sun to share feelings of both disgust and support.
“It’s just a horrible and unspeakable tragedy,” safd Megan Zembower, a senior at Dennison University in Ohio who is interning in Charleston for the summer. “I wanted to come and show support… I can’t imagine what their families are going through.
Many both inside and outside the church said it the shooting was a call to action: senseless violence is occurring far too often in the United States.
“We can’t just talk love, we have to demonstrate it,” said Levy W. Berry, a former city councilman from the nearby town of Hanahan, S.C.
His brother-in-law, Samy Burroughs, said he was praying that “the community will heal.” Looking around the church at the end of the vigil, he said he saw people of many faiths and color in attendance, mentioning the presence of a Muslim woman and Jewish Charlestonians, too.
“That makes me feel good,” said Burroughs. “Real good.”
Sitting behind Burroughs was Terry Dais Paisley, a local business consultant. She said her 22-year-old daughter had pleaded with her not to attend the vigil, afraid that another act of violence may occur. Paisley ignored the well-meaning pleas, feeling compelled to attend.
“People are just tired of the violence,” said Paisley. “(And) when it hits home, it’s a different story.”
Paisley noted how a church’s doors are always open, especially to those in need. She wonders now how churches can square their mission of public service, charity and acceptance with security concerns.
“How do you do that?” she said. “You can’t lock every door of the church. It’s just heartbreaking.”
As the vigil ended, attendees held hands and swayed, singing together, “We shall overcome.”
Then they walked outside, bathed in bright sunshine on an otherwise dark day in Charleston.