Dozens of people attended a vigil at Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Thursday in the wake of the mass shooting at a black church in South Carolina.
Pauline Hill, a South Carolina native now living in Washington, knew some of the victims of Wednesday’s shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. One was her sorority sister, another was a man she dated years ago. But the weight of the tragedy didn’t hit her until she heard the names of all nine victims read out loud.
“It didn’t strike home until they called roll,” Hill said at a vigil Thursday night at Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she works.
The Rev. Carey G. Anderson invited people throughout Seattle to attend the prayer vigil Thursday at that church, the oldest and one of the largest black churches in Seattle. Dozens crowded inside, where speakers called for the Seattle community to come together and build relationships to address issues of racism.
“We are all shaken, especially people of faith,” Anderson had said earlier, speaking from Fairbanks, Alaska, where he had gone to provide support to an affiliated church. He said he planned to cut his trip short and fly back to Seattle late Thursday.
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“The calls have been ringing off the hook in our office,” he said, all from people wanting to show support.
Nine people were fatally shot Wednesday at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a black church known as “Mother Emanuel.” A 21-year-old white suspect was captured Thursday.
Anderson said he knew the pastor who was among those killed.
His very first call after the shooting came from Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “She let me know that the Seattle Police Department is willing and able to stand at our beck and call and beef up patrols.”
In an interview, O’Toole said she was not particularly worried about copycat behavior, but as a precaution would have additional officers paying attention to all the city’s churches. Officers were present at the vigil.
Anderson said he has received calls from churches both inside and outside of the African-American community, including a Methodist church in Bellevue and a Foursquare church in Mill Creek.
“It if happens to one church, it happens to all of us,” said Pastor Aaron Williams of Mount Zion Baptist Church.
He added that he intended to talk with his members about any fears they may have of a similar incident and how they could be prepared. “We’re not so advanced that it couldn’t happen here.”
During the vigil, Julie Burrell noted that some members of First AME were at their own church for a service Wednesday night, just like the nine people killed in Charleston.
“That could have been us,” she said.
Speakers, including Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, stressed the need for the community to move forward and address the issues stemming from racism and ignorance.
“We are tired of failures and excuses to do something about it,” regional NAACP President Gerald Hankerson said.
And at the vigil’s conclusion, attendees all read a plan of action, in unison:
“We are going to walk together, talk together, march together and speak together, and become the change we want to see.”