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Despite Attack, Charleston, S.C., Congregation Remains Strong


A 21-year-old man is in custody after a shooting that authorities call a hate crime. Nine people died last night in Charleston, S.C., in a historically black church. Dylann Storm Roof was arrested today in neighboring North Carolina.


This afternoon, the Charleston County coroner released the names of those who were killed. The victims were at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

CORNISH: At another AME church, just a half-mile away, the community held a prayer vigil today. NPR's Jeff Brady begins our coverage.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: There were times when the crowd was nearly silent in the packed Morris Brown AME Church, like when Rev. Joseph Darby began the service.


REVEREND CHARLES WATKINS: We gather to offer our condolences and to pray with and for the families of the friends, colleagues and family members killed in a senseless, tragic episode of domestic terrorism.

BRADY: And then there were times when the crowd applauded loudly. Here's Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff announcing the big news of the day.


REVEREND NORVEL GOFF: That they have apprehended the suspect...


BRADY: The music selections during the vigil underscored a message echoed by the speeches. Despite this attack, the church is strong.


UNIDENTIFIED VIGIL ATTENDEES: (Singing) Oh Christ, the solid rock I stand. Oh Christ...

BRADY: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley continued that message, saying she could only conclude the shooter had hate in his heart.


NIKKI HALEY: But he was hoping to divide this state and this country. And what he doesn't understand is by what he did yesterday, all he's going to do is bring us a lot closer together.


BRADY: Inside Morris Brown Church, Gov. Haley's comments received applause. But outside, not everyone was pleased she came here to speak.

RAMON CARABALLO: She is the same governor that has done nothing about the confederate flag that is still flying over our capitol.

BRADY: Technically, the flag is not over the capitol building. It's on the grounds in front. Still, activist Ramon Caraballo was among those who see the confederate flag as a symbol of slavery and racism. Defenders consider it an important part of Southern heritage. Caraballo lives in Charleston and says he has a personal connection to the shooting.

CARABALLO: One of the guys that were shot last night was - was a barber at the barbershop where I go to.

BRADY: While the victims of this mass shooting were the focus for many today, people around Charleston couldn't stop thinking about the alleged shooter and what may have been his motivation. Alicia de Lesline lives in nearby North Charleston.

ALICIA DE LESLINE: I don't know. I can't even describe the type of person that does this. Words can't describe him. I just - he just let somebody overtake him and that's (unintelligible) the devil. The devil was in him strong.

BRADY: While many of the details of what happened aren't clear yet, authorities do say the alleged shooter spent an hour with those attending the Bible study before he opened fire on them. Sarah Hipp, from the suburb of Mount Pleasant, says she'd like to know more about the mental state of the alleged shooter.

SARAH HIPP: And especially knowing that he spent time with them and prayed with them and looked them in their eyes and then shot and killed them is - it's really hard to wrap your brain around that and know that he was of stable mind.

BRADY: But above all, people here want to remember those who were killed. Nine people, including the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, who went to Bible study on Wednesday night and never came home.

BLOCK: Jeff Brady, NPR News, Charleston, S.C. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report we incorrectly identify one speaker as the Rev. Joseph Darby. In fact, it was the Rev. Charles Watkins, of Morris Brown AME Church, who began the service.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 18, 2015 at 11:00 PM CDT
In this report we incorrectly identify one speaker as the Rev. Joseph Darby. In fact, it was the Rev. Charles Watkins, of Morris Brown AME Church, who began the service.
Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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