Mourners arrived in Charleston from around the United States on Saturday to pay their respects to nine black churchgoers killed in an attack this week, with services planned throughout the day ahead of a rally in the state capital later in the evening.
Crowds began to gather at the Emanuel African Methodist Church, the site of Wednesday’s killings in downtown Charleston, early on Saturday morning. At the memorial site in front of the church, the oldest African-American congregation in the southern United States, flowers were laid six feet deep in places.
Dylann Roof, 21, whom authorities say spent an hour in Bible study with parishioners at the nearly 200-year-old church before opening fire on them, was remanded in custody by Chief Magistrate James Gosnell at a hearing on Friday.
Placards and signs offered words of solace and prayer but also frustration at another act of gun violence, mirroring the conflicting sentiments of many who have come to pay their respects. A black T-shirt hung on the church gate had white lettering that read: “Do you believe us now? Change must come.”
Monte Talmadge, a 63-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, drove nearly 300 miles (480 km) overnight from Raleigh, North Carolina, and sat in a camping chair across the street from the church.
“There was an overwhelming feeling that made me drive here,” he said. “A church is a place of worship, not a place for killing. Our society has reached a place of total deprecation.”
The bloodshed in Charleston is the latest in a series of fatal mass shootings in the United States. The violence has renewed a national debate between advocates of tighter controls on gun possession and supporters of unfettered access to firearms, which they assert is constitutionally protected under the Second Amendment.
Residents from across the Charleston area are expected to gather early evening on the Ravanel Bridge, one of Charleston’s main thoroughfares, connecting the city with Mount Pleasant across the Cooper River. Local organizers are hoping for 3,000 people to join hands along the bridge’s footpath.
A march is also planned for Saturday evening, starting at Wragg Square and ending at the Emanuel AME church a few blocks away. Participants were encouraged to bring flowers to lay at the church, according to a flyer headed “March for Black Lives”.
The first demonstration since the shooting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia. Activists are calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state house because of what some people see as its racist associations.
The South Carolina Progressive Network is calling for demonstrators to gather on the Gervais Street side of the state house. Republican State Rep. Doug Brannen has said he will introduce legislation to remove the flag.