Sadness and a heat wave settled in on the Holy City’s peninsula Thursday.
While rickshaw drivers pedaled their carts, looking for red-faced tourists in need of rides, mourners moved with heavy hearts through the city, near a historic black church where nine victims were shot dead Wednesday night.
Residents brought flowers to a police barricade at Calhoun and Elizabeth streets, a block away from where police say a gunman entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, was welcomed into a Bible study and opened fire an hour later.
Among the mourners was state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, who expressed amazement at the massacre, which took the life of his friend and State House colleague, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of “Mother Emanuel,” as the church is known locally.
“My God, a holy sanctuary. You’re talking about a pastor. You’re talking about innocent people praying to their God,” Gilliard said.
“Here we are in the greatest country in the world. (That) should not happen,” said Gilliard, who joined law enforcement and community leaders to update the media on the manhunt that went on through Thursday morning.
That manhunt ended shortly before noon in Shelby, N.C., when police arrested 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Lexington.
At a news conference announcing the manhunt’s end, Gov. Nikki Haley predicted difficult conversations ahead for S.C. families as they try to explain the tragedy.
“We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken, and so we have some grieving to do, and we’ve got some pain to go through,” Haley said. “Parents have to try to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that is not something we ever thought we’d deal with.”
But Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said his city is resilient and will lift up the families of the three men and six women who were slain.
“We had a bad guy, didn’t live here, came to town, did a horrible deed,” Riley said.
Not far away from Emanuel – whose founders included Denmark Vesey, who launched a historic slave rebellion in the city nearly two centuries ago – business and tourism buzzed along as usual.
Shopkeepers greeted tourists drawn to the city for his historic charm and world-class restaurants.
But the tragedy still was on their minds.
“With the social climate these days, it’s not as surprising as it would have been 10 years ago,” said Lunden Herron, who manages a clothing store on King Street.
But, she added, “I’m ready to feel safer in public and not have to worry about someone toting around a gun and shooting up a church or my place of business any time they want.”
Near the city’s open-air market, Lowell and Annette Stevenson were planning to celebrate Lowell’s birthday and the Sumter couple’s wedding anniversary.
“It’s kind of sad and scary that something like that happened right there,” Lowell Stevenson said. “You think that being at a church is like being at home. You think you go into the house of the Lord that it’s protected, and the doors are always open.”
Ashlee Tran and Alison Joseph – two Yale graduates on vacation – stood near a vendor selling Charleston’s iconic sweet-grass baskets taking calls about the tragedy.
They first heard about the shooting while eating dinner Wednesday night at an upscale seafood restaurant.
“It was scary last night to walk out of dinner and see the streets blocked off and the police helicopters circling,” Joseph said.
“It’s been shocking that this could happen here.” But, she added, “At the same time, it sort of feels like this keeps happening, and no matter where you are, it’s sort of a universal tragedy.”
That feeling, that such a shooting could happen anywhere, hit home Thursday, just as the conversation among the angry and bereaved shifted toward a search for answers.
Some said more gun control is needed.
“God has given us the common sense to come up with (gun-control laws), but it’s man who has refused to implement what’s right,” said Charleston resident Anice Carr.
Dimitri Cherny said he saw Wednesday’s violence as a result of South Carolina’s culture of honoring the Confederacy, including the flag that flies on the State House grounds.
Getting rid of the flag – and other “state-sanctioned” forms of “hate,” he said – “is the only way to move civilization forward.”
But others who joined the collective grieving in Charleston’s streets Thursday expressed a more hopeful outlook.
Kim Hamby and her 4-year-old daughter, Kayla, placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial set up under a police barricade near Emanuel church.
Hamby, a Charleston resident, said she came to a realization while praying earlier Thursday: The Emanuel AME Church shooting victims would not die in vain.
“We’re mourning with the families, but there’s peace. There’s a covering of peace over this city,” Hamby said, holding Kayla on her hip.
“God never makes mistakes. There’s going to be good out of this.”
Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Self at (803) 771-8658