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Local Churches Hold Vigils For SC Shooting Victims

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Churches across South Florida are holding vigils in the coming days, honoring the nine people killed in a South Carolina mass shooting.

One of those vigils was in Southwest Miami-Dade Thursday night, where the pastor is from South Carolina.

Pastor Anthony Reed of Martin Memorial AME Church, in Richmond Heights near SW 152nd Street, was raised in Charleston. He was also ordained there and knows the Emanuel AME Church well.

"We come tonight to lift prayers for nine souls, nine lives," said Pastor Anthony Reed.

With those words, started a special service, lighting nine candles – one for each of the three men and six women killed at Emanuel the night before.

Despite his shock, the 38-year-old pastor offered his congregants words of hope as they struggle to make sense of the massacre.

Congregant James Hughes expressed surprise as he explained he "could not believe that this guy (the shooter) could sit next to the minister for an hour, knowing what his plan was.  Who does that?"

Fellow congregant Laquanda Hall said she was surprised the shooter went into a place of worship to kill people.

But Hall said it's a wake-up call "to let us know as Christians that we are not accepting the fact that the enemy comes into the house of the Lord as well."

Pastor Reed reminded his community not to judge, but to pray for others, including the suspected shooter.

But he also points out A.M.E. church leaders across the country, and the Caribbean, are now forced to reevaluate security.

"Churches need to really be more cautious as to how open we are. We still want to be open to everybody. But at the same time, now is the time to really wake up and be mindful of who´s worshipping, who´s coming," said Reed.

Congregants at the Greater Bethel AME Church, the oldest church in Miami, expressed sadness and anger - many wondering if there will ever be an end to hate.

"It says that we have a long way to go and that we are not there yet," said church member Gwendolyn Dixon. "It says that we still do have people out there who are not only sick but who have mental problems and who hate other people."

Rev. Willie Cook grieved the loss Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the minister at Greater Bethel's sister church - Emanuel AME Church - and the eight others who were killed. Cook said Pinckney, who was also a state senator, was a man of God that he knew.

"At the meetings we would gather and talk about what's going on in each church and it has saddened our hearts to know that such an evil act occurred in a house of prayer," said Cook.

"My first impression of him was just his heart – such a kind man. He had a genuine humbleness about himself," said Rev. Henry Green Jr. who also knew Pinckney.

Cook's church members were said they were stunned when they heard of the evil that lashed out in Charleston.

"To be in a house of the Lord, worshipping and for someone to come and do such a drastic thing to so many people, so many lives, and for what," said Gladys Mitchell.

Hateful actions against black churches have a long and notorious history in this country. At the height of the civil rights movement, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed in 1963. Four young girls were killed.

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