Local church holds vigil after Charleston shootings
Several Tampa Bay churches came together for prayer vigils Thursday to mourn the nine lives lost in a Charleston, South Carolina shooting.
At Without Walls International Church in Tampa, the congregation sang hymns and held hands, praying for both the victims' families and the gunman who took their lives.
"It really touched me, because when you are in bible study, when you are in prayer groups and all that, you are praying for the very people that come against you. The very person that gunned them down," said church member Frederick Thomas.
Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of opening fire inside the historic Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, killing the pastor and eight others.
"I've been crying all day. It's really a shock," said Teresa Graves, a high school friend of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the deceased.
"No one was a stranger. He would give you the shirt off his back. That was Clementa," said Graves.
Graves, who lives in Apollo Beach, said she grew up with Reverend Pinckney in the small town of Ridgeland, South Carolina. There was only one stop light, everyone knew each other, and Pinckney was the high school friend who went on to make a name for himself.
"We never knew him as Senator or the House of Representatives District Number 122, we knew him as Clementa Pinckney, or Clementa," said Graves.
Graves found out about Pinckney's death Thursday morning by watching FOX 13 news. She said it's difficult knowing the man who was a leader among his friends and gave his first sermon at the age of 14 was killed in such a violent manner.
"I'm trying to cope with it and grasp that part," said Graves, "Just to know that he was gunned down, and knowing the type of man that he was, and how he lived, that's hard enough, but then when you add that it's a possible hate crime, it takes it to another level."
Graves said she hopes her old friend will be remembered more for the way he lived his life than the way he died.
"He was a family man, a husband, a father, and one that loved his community. One that put God first," said Graves.
Roof, the alleged shooter, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, on Thursday.