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South Carolina Church Shootings: TV News Mobilizes to Cover Racially Motivated Rampage

TV news crews and top anchors are descending on Charleston, S.C., today to cover the aftermath of what appears to be racially motivated shooting rampage in a church that left nine people dead and the city shaken.

Police are calling the shootings on Wednesday night of six women and three men at a historic black church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a hate crime. The gunman has been identified as Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, S.C., according to the New York Times.

After an all-night manhunt, Roof was taken into custody in North Carolina late Thursday morning, according to local reports.

As details of the slayings spread Thursday morning, news organizations scrambled to get resources and personnel in place to cover the aftermath of the killings and the pursuit of the suspect. The victims included the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator, according to the Times.

ABC’s David Muir and CBS’ Scott Pelley will anchor their evening newscasts tonight from Charleston. “Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie will preside over “NBC Nightly News’ ” coverage from the city. Guthrie is subbing this week for NBC News’ Lester Holt, who is on vacation.

The breaking news scramble comes on the same day NBC is expected to announce that Holt has been named the permanent “Nightly News” replacement for Brian Williams, who was suspended without pay in February amid the controversy over his on-air embellishments of his experiences while covering the Iraq war.

Cable news networks have gone virtually wall-to-wall with South Carolina coverage, which began around 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday. CNN has more than a dozen correspondents on the ground, including anchors Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon and Michaela Pereira.

Fox News will offer live editions of its primetime series, “The O’Reilly Factor,” “The Kelly File” and “Hannity,” focusing the shootings. Megyn Kelly’s planned interview with Traci Johnson, the Oklahoma woman who was nearly beheaded in a workplace violence incident last year, was scheduled to air tonight but has been preempted.

Local law enforcement released surveillance footage of a white man believed to be the gunman entering the church. Local reports said the gunman sat in the church with parishioners for about an hour before opening fire. The Times cited reports that the gunman was quoted as saying: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

UPDATE: President Obama has released a lengthy statement on the shootings, calling for the nation to come to grips with the danger of gun violence.

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. There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.

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. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing.

But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. 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 fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.

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. And with our prayers and our love, and the buoyancy of hope, it will rise again now as a place of peace.

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