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Rallies Held in Charleston, Across US for Shooting Victims

  • Amanda Scott

Rallies and gatherings were being held Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina, and across the United States as people gathered to remember and pay respects to those affected by the shooting deaths of nine black people at the Emanuel AME Church this week.

In Charleston, crowds gathered in several areas of the city, and marchers dressed in black and mourning clothes after a day of reflection outside the historic church. Emanuel AME's presiding elder, Norvel Goff, told those gathered earlier Saturday that worship services and religious school would resume Sunday

WATCH: Mourners join in prayer Saturday evening outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

Pastor Dimas Salaberrios of New York's Infinity Bible Church told mourners in Charleston it was vital to transcend racial animosity. He offered prayers and words of encouragement while the crowd sweltered in temperatures expected to reach 39 degrees Celsius.

Timothy Deep and two other family members were traveling from Houston, Texas to New York when news of the attacks reached them. They immediately canceled their plans and went to Charleston, where they spoke to VOA.

"This is a time for people all over America to get on their knees [and] pray to God for unity, to take our differences — like our race, our denomination — and, like the Bible says, come to one faith, one spirit and one God," Deep said.

Children lay flowers outside of the Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, June 20, 2015. (Amanda Scott/VOA)

Children lay flowers outside of the Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, June 20, 2015. (Amanda Scott/VOA)

​Emanuel church officials announced Saturday afternoon that normally scheduled services and Sunday school would be held on Sunday.

Religious and civil rights leaders across the U.S. were preaching a similar message Saturday.

In New York, congregants gathered at one of the country's largest AME churches for a morning prayer service, followed by a march and rally. Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the shooting, “Yes, it was terrorism, terrorism based on racism, but, that does not negate the fact that we have a gun problem in this country.”

In Detroit, the local chapter of the Reverend Al Sharpton's group, the National Action Network, was holding an interfaith gathering in response to the Charleston shooting. An interracial prayer service will also take place in Atlanta, a key city in the U.S. civil rights movement.

WATCH: Related video report by Zlatica Hoke

The suspect in the mass shooting, Dylann Roof, 21, a white man with a recent history of racist views, was being held in the Charleston County jail.

He is charged with nine counts of murder and one count of criminal possession of a firearm. A judge in Charleston set bail of $1 million for Roof on the firearms charge but said he did not have the authority to set bail on the nine counts of murder.

Roof reportedly told investigators he chose Emanuel AME Church for the shooting because it was an "historic, African-American" church. He is being kept in isolation, and on a suicide watch, CNN reported.

Gun control conversation

In San Francisco Saturday, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called for more gun control in the wake of the deadly church shooting.

"This generation will not be shackled by fear and hate," she told the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "I am not and will not be afraid to keep fighting for common sense reforms," she said.

Raw emotion filled the Charleston courtroom Friday where relatives of the nine victims addressed Roof at his bond hearing.

Roof was arrested in neighboring North Carolina Thursday as he fled by car. His next court appearance will be in October.

Federal authorities announced Friday they are investigating the killings as a possible act of domestic terrorism, as well as a hate crime, "from all angles."

WATCH: President Obama's comments

Have to 'fix this'

Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco Friday, President Barack Obama spoke for the first time about race in relation to the shootings.

The president said, "The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight we have to combat together."

Obama said he is not willing to accept that regular mass shootings are "the new normal" in the U.S., but he doubts Congress will move to change gun laws because of the influence the National Rifle Association wields with the lawmakers.

However, he added, "I have faith that we will eventually do the right thing."

Calling for a change in attitudes, he said, "We have to have a conversation about this and fix this."

Obama said it is not good enough to "show sympathy."

WATCH: Musicians Play Saturday Outside Emanuel AME Church

At Mother Emanuel

A community and prayer service Friday at a sports arena near the church where the shootings occurred culminated a day of mourning.

A spontaneous memorial for the victims grew outside Mother Emanuel, as the church is affectionately known. People brought flowers, balloons and placards in remembrance of the victims.

The shooting marks one of the most notorious attacks on a black church in the South since the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls and helped galvanize the U.S. civil rights movement. The bombing was tied to the Ku Klux Klan.

Emanuel AME Church was founded in 1816 after splitting from the city's white Methodist Episcopal church, making it one of the oldest African-American congregations in the southern United States.

Jerome Socolovsky contributed to this report from Charleston, South Carolina.

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