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Local AME Church Leaders Come Together To Pray For Victims Of S.C. Shooting

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Ministers from local African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered Thursday afternoon to join hands and pray for those killed at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

A white man who joined a prayer meeting at the church Wednesday night suddenly opened fire, killing nine people, including the pastor. Authorities call it a hate crime.

The suspected gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, of Lexington, South Carolina, was arrested during a traffic stop Thursday morning more than 200 miles away in Shelby, North Carolina.

At the prayer circle at Bethel AME in Pittsburgh's Hill District, the bond between the churches was clear.

"Friends that we know and people who we have acquaintance with across the district because we are a connectional church. We relate to each other; we see each other at the same meetings," said Rev. James H. McLemore, the presiding elder at Bethel AME Church. "We feel that this is an onslaught on our community as well as an onslaught on our faith. And we want to make sure we show solidarity, that we know how to come together in times of crisis."

The crisis, not only the nine dead, but the hatred, that still exists.

"Shocked that here we are in 2015 and hate still prevails across this country. Something has got to give," said Rev. Steven Jackson, of Bethel AME. "Shocked by friends who were killed at a prayer meeting and a Bible study; hurt once again behind the hatred that's still going around."

Pittsburgh's Bethel AME Church is the mother church of the Pittsburgh conference. It's a historic church, just like Emanuel in Charleston.

That makes Rev. Jackson fearful.

"Fearful because Bethel is in the same position as Emanuel," he says. "We are the historic church here. Bethel's over 200-years-old. The first black church west of the Alleghenies, so praying that justice prevails."

"When a tragedy like this affects one of our churches, all of us grieve together. It's important for all Christians to recognize how this tragedy affects every person of faith," said Rev. Liddy Barlow, of the Christian Association of Southwest Pa. "Our churches need to be sanctuaries from violence."

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