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Thousands arrive for Obama's tribute to Charleston victims

26 June 2015, 20:44

Charleston - The first black president of the United States prepared Friday to eulogize the victims of a mass shooting at a historic African-American church, a tragedy that one civil rights activist said was a sign of "how far yet" the nation has to go to put racial tensions behind it.

Thousands of mourners gathered to hear President Barack Obama pay tribute to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The nine were shot dead at the church during a Bible study session last week in what authorities are investigating as a racially motivated attack.

Also read: High emotions as Charleston bury massacre victims

Police said they had to turn away hundreds of people who were still standing in a line that stretched several blocks. Some people cried after they were turned away.

The 21-year-old suspect in the shooting, Dylann Roof, was questioned three months before the deadly shooting rampage by a police officer who found AR-15 gun magazines in his trunk, according to a police document released Friday. The officer found six 40-round magazines as well as part of an AR-15. Roof was questioned but not charged.

Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder. Police say he used a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun in the attack.

The first two funerals for victims were held Thursday amid tight security. The mourning began as the debate over the Confederate flag and other Old South symbols continued around the region. A growing number of leading politicians said Civil War symbols should be removed from places of honor, despite their role as elements of Southern identity.

Haley started the move against Confederate icons Monday by successfully calling on South Carolina lawmakers to debate taking down the Confederate battle flag flying in front of the Statehouse. Then Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, also a conservative Republican, brought down four secessionist flags at the Capitol there.

Some authorities have worried openly about a backlash as people take matters into their own hands.

"Black Lives Matter" was spray-painted on a monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday, only the latest statue to be defaced.

The shooting suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, appeared in photos with a Confederate license plate, waving a Confederate flag, burning and desecrating U.S. flags on a website created in his name months before the attacks.

Attorney Boyd Young, who represents Roof's family, issued a statement saying they will answer questions later, but want to allow the victims' families to grieve. "We feel it would be inappropriate to say anything at this time other than that we are truly sorry for their loss," the statement said.

- AP


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