Last night, a gunman opened fire at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people including pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney. The Department of Justice is opening a hate crime investigation into this tragedy.
The President delivered the following statement from the White House Briefing Room:
Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden offered a statement on the shooting:
Hate has once again been let loose in an American community. And the senseless actions of a coward have once again cut short so many lives with so much promise. Our hearts ache with sorrow with the entire Emanuel AME Church family as they seek solace and comfort in the shadow of a gunman’s act of pure evil and hatred. Our love and prayers are with them.
We last saw Reverend Clementa Pinckney less than a year ago at a prayer breakfast in Columbia. He was a good man, a man of faith, a man of service who carried forward Mother Emaunel’s legacy as a sacred place promoting freedom, equality, and justice for all. We pray for him and his sister as we do for the seven other innocent souls who entered that storied church for their weekly Bible study seeking nothing more than humble guidance for the full lives ahead of them.
We have no doubt the coward who committed this heinous act will be brought to justice. But as a nation we must confront the ravages of gun violence and the stain of hatred that continues to be visited on our streets, in our schools, in our houses of worship, and in our communities.
As Mayor Riley made clear, all of Charleston’s heart bleeds today—but the overwhelming display of unity will bring forth the city’s healing. We will never forget those innocent souls who lost their lives. We will be there with all the strength and support and prayers we can offer to the families who now grieve. And as a nation we will come together.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch addressed the shooting this morning: "This is a crime that has reached into the heart of that community. The Department of justice has opened a hate crime investigation into this shooting incident."
"My thoughts and prayers, and those of our entire law enforcement community here at the Department of Justice and around the country are with the families and loved ones of the victims in Charleston," she added. "Even as we struggle to comprehend this heartbreaking event, I want everyone in Charleston and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy to know that we will do everything in our power to help heal this community and make it whole again."
Here is a transcript of what the President said today:
Good afternoon, everybody. This morning, I spoke with, and Vice President Biden spoke with, Mayor Joe Riley and other leaders of Charleston to express our deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night.
Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church. We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night. And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.
Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy.
Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church. This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps. This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.
The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them. The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation. We understand that the suspect is in custody. And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.
Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case. But I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise. I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.
Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear:
I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome. That, certainly, was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago, after four little girls were killed in a bombing in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama.
He said they lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly. “They say to each of us,” Dr. King said, “black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with [about] who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.
“And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”
Reverend Pinckney and his congregation understood that spirit. Their Christian faith compelled them to reach out not just to members of their congregation, or to members of their own communities, but to all in need. They opened their doors to strangers who might enter a church in search of healing or redemption.
Mother Emanuel church and its congregation have risen before –- from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times -– to give hope to generations of Charlestonians.
Click here to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s eulogy for the four girls who were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.