CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church.
The increased security comes amid a heated debate over the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy around the South and elsewhere. A monument to former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had the phrase “Black Lives Matter” spray-painted on it Thursday in Richmond, Virginia, the latest of several monuments to be defaced around the country.
The first funeral was for 70-year-old Ethel Lance, a Charleston native who had been a member of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for most of her life. Police say a gunman walked into the church during a Bible study June 17 and opened fire in a racially motived attack.
Lance served as a sexton at the church for the last five years, helping to keep the historic building clean, and she loved gospel music. She had five children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“She can be a symbol for love,” said grandson Brandon Risher, one of several grandchildren to speak. “Hate is powerful but love is more powerful.”
People dabbed at their eyes with handkerchiefs and batted at the muggy air with cardboard fans handed out at the door. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mayor Joe Riley and Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford attended.
Services for Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, were scheduled for Thursday afternoon. She was an assistant pastor at Emanuel AME and one of the nine people slain when police say a white man opened fire during a Bible study in a racially motivated attack.
Funerals for the other victims were set to happen over the next week, including one Friday for the church pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
In Richmond, the Davis statue was among a number of symbols to the Confederacy that have come under fire since the mass shooting. In Memphis, Tennessee, the mayor said he thinks a statue of Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest should be removed from a city park and his grave, also at the park, should be relocated.
Dylann Storm Roof was captured a day after the shootings when a motorist spotted his Confederate license plate. Images on a website created in Roof’s name months before the attacks show him posing with the Confederate flag and burning and desecrating the U.S. flag. He also poses at Confederate museums, former slave plantations and slave graves.
Haley started the groundswell 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, issued an executive order that brought down four secessionist flags Wednesday. He compared the banner to the universally shunned symbols of Nazi Germany, a stunning reversal in a region where the Confederacy was formed 154 years ago and where Jefferson Davis was elected president.
Meanwhile, the Charleston magistrate who asked for sympathy for Roof’s relatives was replaced. The South Carolina Supreme Court didn’t give a reason for replacing Charleston County Chief Magistrate James Gosnell.
During a bond hearing on a weapons charge against suspect Dylann Roof, Gosnell expressed sympathy for Roof’s families, as well as the victim’s families. Gosnell’s attorney didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
Pinckney’s body was in the South Carolina Statehouse on Wednesday, lying in the lobby between the House and Senate chambers. Viewings were planned in his hometown in Ridgeland Thursday afternoon and at Emanuel AME church Thursday night.
His funeral is set Friday morning at the College of Charleston, with President Obama set to deliver the eulogy.