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Nine Killed, Three Survived "Hate Crime" Attack; Historic Black Church Site Of Deadly Shooting; Obama Comments On Church Shooting. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 18, 2015 - 16:30   ET


ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Among those Pinckney led in prayer and joined in death was Myra Thompson, the wife of one of the church's bishops. She was teaching bible study as she was shot. Fellow Pastor Sharonda Singleton was also killed.

Her son posted heartbreaking messages to Twitter last night just as news of the tragedy broke, "Something terrible has happened to my mom tonight. Please pray for her and my family. Pray ASAP." He posted but it was too late. The high school speech therapist and track coach had been gunned down.

As prayers echoed in the aftermath, the victims inside included Tywanza Sanders, seen here in his Facebook profile. He was a graduate of Allen University and a beloved local barber. His shop is posting this tribute to their Facebook page today.

Cynthia Hurd, a 31-year employee of the city's public library was also killed, the library is closed today and confirmed her death on its Facebook page, writing that Hurd, quote, "Dedicated her life to serving and improving the lives of others." Lives of service cut shockingly short in a city now singing to fill their silence.


MACHADO: The youngest victim was actually 26, not 41. The other victims confirmed by the coroner's office this afternoon, 70-year-old Ethel Lance, she leaves behind five children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, 74-year-old Reverend Daniel Simmons Jr., and 49-year-old Depayne Middleton Doctor, her friends tell me she leaves behind four daughters -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's so tragic. Alina Machado, thank you so much for that report. Governor Nikki Haley was on the verge of tears as she talked about the shooting earlier today, wondering how parents could possibly explain to their children that they are still safe when they go to church, asking the community to pull together. That story is next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We have breaking news coverage of this massacre at the historic black church in South Carolina. It took place last night. Why? That's the question so many of us want answered today, but why would a sanctuary meant for solace be sprayed through with bullets? Now police say they have the alleged shooter in custody.

Let's go back to my colleague, John Berman, who is live in Charleston. John, a remarkable moment earlier today, South Carolina's Governor Nikki Haley broke down earlier today when talking about this horrific, horrific event. Let's take a quick listen.


GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: 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 we have to go through. Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that is not something we would ever thought we would deal with.

Having said that, we are a strong and faithful state, we love our state, we love our country, and most importantly, we love each other. I will tell you there's a lot of prayer in this state. So you are going to see all of us try to lift these nine families up in prayers because they need us.

These nine families need us, the Emanuel AME Church needs us, the AME Church family needs us, and the people of South Carolina need us to come together and be strong for what has happened.


TAPPER: Powerful moment. John, you've been speaking with members of the community there in Charleston, South Carolina all day. How are they dealing? How are they coping with this horrific act of terrorism?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": I've got to say, Jake, there is a range of emotion that I have seen here over the last five or six hours has been remarkable. Ironic and there were still a manhunt and people were genuinely afraid. There was a killer on the loose, a person who targeted a black church.

There are so many African-American churches in this community that people were frankly afraid then there was a great deal of satisfaction. I saw someone high-five the sheriff when they learned that this man was caught in Shelby, North Carolina, satisfaction that the law enforcement community worked together to find him.

But more than anything, just shock, disbelief and grief, pure grief. There were nine people killed behind me at Mother Emanuel, the Emanuel AME Church. Nine people killed, six women, three men, four of them were religious leaders including a man who is a pillar in this community, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who is looked upon by everyone here as a leader.

The exact type of person you would want here today to heal. I've heard anger, people not at all satisfied with what's going on here or how it's been treated. Some people want it to be called terrorism, and a lot of people think it's a fair description. But there is also now resilience, Jake, people moving forward. There was a Democrat who, who went out of his way to praise the governor. Mark Sanford is here. He is a Republican.

They are all here coming together, because people know they need to work together to get through this, and they want to be here for the people in this church community -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, John Berman, thank you so much.

Joining me on the phone right now is Malcolm Graham. He is the brother of Cynthia Hurd. Cynthia Hurd is one of the six women, nine people killed at the church last night.

[16:40:09] Mr. Graham, thank you for joining us. I am so, so sorry for your loss. Tell us about your sister. Tell us about Cynthia.

MALCOLM GRAHAM, BROTHER OF CYNTHIA HURD (via telephone): Cynthia was the matriarch of the family. Both our mother and father are deceased. In terms of the glue that kept the family together, she was a 31-year employee of the Charleston Community School District library system. She loved books. She loved children, she loved her community, she loved her family, and she loved her God.

TAPPER: Mr. Graham, how often did she go and do bible study?

GRAHAM: Emanuel was our home church. We were born and raised in that church, baptized in that church. My mom sung in the choir. We were regular church-goers. We're Christians. I was not surprised she was there that Wednesday night.

TAPPER: Tell us who she leaves behind.

GRAHAM: Her husband, Steve, who is a longshoreman, so we're trying to get him home. He's in Saudi Arabia and so we're trying to make arrangements to bring him back home. She was four older brothers, Robin, Leroy, Donald, myself, and a younger sister, Jackie, and a host of family and friends and a community that really cared about her in Charleston, South Carolina.

TAPPER: We are hearing wonderful things about your sister. God bless you and your family. I hope these next few weeks and months are not too tough on you all. Thank you for joining us, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

TAPPER: I'm also joined now by state Senator Todd Rutherford. He talked to President Obama and knew the Reverend Pinckney. Sir, thank you for joining us. What can you share with us about your conversation with the president?

TODD RUTHERFORD, WORKED WITH REVEREND CLEMENTA PINCKNEY: The president called me this morning and wanted to wish condolences on behalf of himself and the first lady to Senator Pinckney, to his church family and to the community at large. He was telling me then -- this was before the young man was caught -- that all of the efforts of the federal government could offer would be given to make sure the person was caught.

As we know, he was. We thank the president for that. The president wanted to make sure we had everything that we needed, and of course, right now, we do, and we're grateful for that. The problem is the rhetoric in South Carolina, the rhetoric nationwide has led people to believe like this young man, it's OK to walk into a church and take nine lives.

It's OK to take the life of a state senator, it's OK to sit in a church and pray with people for an hour before you decide to take their lives. That's not OK. It needs to change.

TAPPER: Tell me what you mean, sir, when you say that the rhetoric nationwide has had this impact on this twisted racist maniac who made this act. What rhetoric are you talking about?

RUTHERFORD: South Carolina is one of five states that does not have a hate crimes law. South Carolina is the only state that I'm aware of that still flies a confederate flag in front of the statehouse dome. South Carolina represents its emblematic of the problem, which is words come from these networks that broadcast what they call news but it's not.

It's really hate speech and coded language and leads people to believe that they can walk into a church because it's no longer a house of God, but a killing ground. It's a place they can feel free to desecrate and leave blood everywhere, and that's what this young man did.

And he did so based on some ill-gotten belief, on some wrong belief that it's OK to do that. He hears that because he watches the news and things like Fox News, where they talk about things that they call news, but they're really not.

They use that coded language. They use hate speech. They talk about the president as if he's not the president. They talk about church goers as if they not really church goers. That's what this young man acted on. That's why you can walk into a church and treat people like animals when they are really human beings.

TAPPER: You have a lot there to unpack, but instead of doing that, what I would rather do with the time I have left with you, Representative Rutherford, is find out more about Reverend Pinckney. Tell us about this man this friend of yours and the loss that is left behind.

RUTHERFORD: Reverend Pinckney was someone that was called to the church as early as 13 years old. He was ordained as a minister between 16 and 18, and was elected when he was 23, then elected to the state Senate when he was 27. He has lived his entire life and dedicated it to God and his congregation and his constituents.

This is someone who literally lived all 40 of his years trying to do what's best for the people of South Carolina and for this country. We owe him a debt of gratitude and we owe him a debt of making sure that his loss will not be in vain. We'll try to move the fight forward. Because this is someone who literally when he was not in the statehouse, he was in his church. He was with his family. He leaves behind two young kids and let's not forget the eight other people that were killed and their families as well.

[16:45:12] TAPPER: No, of course not. Representative Rutherford, our thoughts and prayers are with you, with Reverend Pinkcney's family, the family of the eight other victims, and of course, the community of Charleston. Thank you for joining us, sir.

RUTHERFORD: Thank you.

TAPPER: When we come back, the horror of this attack made even starker by where it happened, in this house of worship. We will show you the unique place that Emanuel AME holds in history.

And for President Obama, this church massacre is personal. He knew the fallen pastor. He delivered a personal and controversial message earlier today about the violence. That's next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Charleston, South Carolina is known as the holy city because of its many churches and its tradition of religious tolerance. But after last night, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mother Emanuel, which has stood since the days of the civil war, is a crime scene.

CNN's Tom Foreman joins us now with a look at how this church became a symbol of black freedom. Tom, Mother Emanuel has deal with a number of tragedies in its nearly 200-year history.

[16:50:12] TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. The impact of this attack, while horrific under any circumstance, is undeniably magnified by where it happened because this church is a landmark of our nation's struggle with race relations.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Located less than a mile from Charleston's historic slave market, and established in 1816 deep in the slavery years, Emanuel has always been more than a place of worship. As the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the south is a living testament to the trials of black America.

Here one of the church founders tried to organize a slave rebellion almost 200 years ago, only to see the church burned to the ground when it was discovered more than 300 alleged plotters were arrested, 35 were executed. Here runaway slaves were secretly helped on their perilous journey north.

Here Martin Luther King Jr. invited new generations to march for equality, even as white supremacists were still hoisting their own crosses. Through it all, Emanuel has been a leading force for AME churches and outspoken leaders. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks belonged to it and the AME troops is always about human rights and civil rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The black church has always been our freedom house.

FOREMAN: Alton Pollard is a dean at the Howard University School of Divinity, and he says Emanuel led the way for so many black churches by being a place where African-American politicians, leaders, organizers, teachers and more could find acceptance when they were barred from so much of America.

ALTON POLLARD III, DEAN, HOWARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DIVINITY: You know that you will come there unfiltered. You will come there without recrimination made against you so no matter the disparages of the largest social order, you can come here and you learn to be as fully human as you are.

FOREMAN (on camera): That's what Emanuel meant to you.

POLLARD: Yes, absolutely. Part of that means the affirming of every single person who comes inside our doors, and those who are within the communities around us.


FOREMAN: In short, Emanuel AME has been visited by tragedies many times over many years, and it is a testament to that church and indeed to black churches everywhere their congregations have found ways to mourn, recover and move forward again -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

President Obama speaking just hours ago says, "This type of mass violence does not happened in other advanced countries with his this kind of frequency." His emotional comments are next.



TAPPER: Welcome back for THE LEAD. The country paused earlier today as President Obama, the first African-American president, addressed this revoting massacre. Jim, the president wants the United States to once again reconsidering its stance on further restrictions on guns, although he pointed out he doesn't have all the facts about this specific incident.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The White House says the president and vice president had several phone conversations today with the mayor of Charleston and other local leaders in South Carolina. But the president's biggest call of the day was to ask the country once again to take a second look at more gun control.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a problem that has dogged President Obama like no other, mass shootings in America.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I've had to make statements like this too many times.

ACOSTA: This time the president and vice president knew one of the victims, the pastor of the church where the nation's latest rampage occurred, South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney. The killings in Charleston, Mr. Obama said, should serve as an all-too familiar wake-up call.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency and it is in our power to do something about it.

ACOSTA: But he's spoken out on mass shootings at least 14 times during his presidency from Fort Hood to Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown and in the nation's capital. One nearly took the life of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, another happened at the movies.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What in Malia and Sasha had been at the theater as so many of our kids do every day?

ACOSTA: And again at Sandy Hook Elementary, a day the president described as his worst in office.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: These tragedies must end and to end them, we must change.

ACOSTA: The president pushed for a new measure that would have required background checks on firearms sold at gun shows and online.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson and Blacksburg, Newtown, they deserve a simple vote.

ACOSTA: But after a massive lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association, the bipartisan proposal was defeated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amendment is not agreed to.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn't do this. It came down to politics.

ACOSTA: Republican senator and president candidate, Rand Paul, condemned the violence in Charleston, but argued more gun control isn't the answer.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's something terribly wrong, but it isn't going to be fixed by your government.


ACOSTA: The president has not attempted gun control in Congress ever since that push after the Newtown school shooting and White House officials said today the president is not likely to try for it again during his remaining time in office -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks so much. That's it for THE LEAD on this grim day. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you for watching.