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'The Depth of Our Grief' - Washington Reacts to Church Shooting

An emotional Senate staffer joins other staff members and members of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a vigil to mourn the shooting victims of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015.

Speaking from the White House Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “too many times” he has had to make statements in the wake of mass shootings like that of nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church Wednesday. “Too many times,” he added, have communities like Charleston had to endure “tragedies like this.”

The president, visibly upset, cast the event in terms of gun control, saying it is time to take another look at reining in the weapons.

“We don’t have all the facts but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun,” Obama said in comments to reporters.

Capitol HIll prayer circle

In a vigil that grew by word of mouth, about 100 members of Congress and their staffers gathered on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol by a sign that read, "We are Charleston." Holding hands, they bowed their heads in prayer for the victims of the shooting.

“Our hearts ache for the families of the victims,” said Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who led the group. “We pray and ask that God would somehow use us to end the insanity of violence that we see.”

Members of Congress Hold Vigil for Victims of Church Shooting
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The vigil was organized by the office of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who did not attend because he was in Charleston. His chief of staff, Jennifer DeCasper, sent word to friends on Capitol Hill. “God took it from there,” she said after the vigil.

'Hard truths'

“The depth of our grief reveals the depth of our love and our resolve,” said House Speaker John Boehner. He added his thoughts went out to law enforcement. “Anyone who would do anything so unspeakable is pure evil.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said when she first heard the report of the shootings on the news, she thought she was hearing about an anniversary of an event rather than “a new, fresh reality of a challenge in our country in terms of respect for one another and the use of violence to express that.” Words, she said, “become less and less adequate the more this happens.”

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush canceled campaign events that were scheduled to take place in Charleston Thursday. "Governor Bush’s thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by this tragedy," a spokeswoman said.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said the United States must “face hard truths about race, violence and division” in the wake of the shootings.