1st funerals set for Charleston church shooting victims

2015-06-25 18:37
Pastor Clementa Pinckney’s body during a public viewing in Columbia. (Rainier Ehrhardt, AP)

Pastor Clementa Pinckney’s body during a public viewing in Columbia. (Rainier Ehrhardt, AP)

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Charleston - Mourners prepared on Thursday for the first funerals for the victims of the mass shooting at a historic black Charleston church, a day after parishioners resumed Bible study in the basement where the rampage occurred.

Hours before the body of pastor Clementa Pinckney would be returned to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for his wake, members and non-members packed the room where a stranger had joined the Bible group then opened fire. Authorities are investigating it as a hate crime.

"Because of our faith, we've shown up once more again to declare that Jesus lives and because he lives, we can face tomorrow," interim pastor Norvel Goff told a multiracial crowd.

President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral on Friday.

In the church's basement, there was little evidence of the violence. Workers had covered bullet holes in the wall and removed other traces of the attack, church spokesperson Maxine Smith said.

The 41-year-old minister on Wednesday became the first African-American since Reconstruction in the late 1800s to rest in honour in South Carolina's Statehouse Rotunda. Pinckney served the people from the Statehouse for nearly 20 years, including as a senator. Authorities say the viewing drew 4 000 mourners.

As mourners filed by his open casket, a makeshift drape over a huge window obscured the secessionist Confederate battle flag outside on the Statehouse grounds, emphasising how quickly the symbol of Southern pride has fallen into official disrepute.

Dylann Storm Roof was captured a day after the shootings when a motorist spotted his Confederate license plate. Images on a website created in Roof's name months before the attacks show him posing with the Confederate flag and burning and desecrating the US flag.

Governor Nikki Haley started the groundswell against Confederate icons on Monday by successfully calling on South Carolina lawmakers to debate taking down the Confederate battle flag flying in front of the Statehouse.

Then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued an executive order that brought down four of the flags on Wednesday. He compared the banner to the universally shunned symbols of Nazi Germany, a stunning reversal in a region where the Confederacy was formed 154 years ago.

Other lawmakers and activists have taken aim at symbols including a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee's Senate and a sculpture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Kentucky Rotunda.

Businesses also have acted swiftly. Wal-Mart, eBay, Amazon and Target are among those saying Confederate merchandise will be gone from their stores and online sites.

A growing number of Confederate symbols have been defaced by graffiti.

The words "Black Lives Matter" were spray-painted on Wednesday on a century-old Confederate memorial in St Louis, not far from Ferguson, Missouri, where the phrase took root after a white officer killed an unarmed black man last August.

Goff used his time at Emanuel's Bible study to call for continued calm in Charleston in the face of the tragedy.

"We may not be in control of those who commit evil acts, but we are in control of how we respond to it," he said.

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