AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Here in Charleston, S.C., the city is still reeling in the aftermath of Wednesday's mass shooting at a historic black church. Nine parishioners are dead. Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof is charged in their murder, and he made his first court appearance today on a video link from a detention center. Through that link, he was able to hear and see dramatic testimony from the family members of those killed. Police say Roof spent nearly an hour in Bible study at Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night before opening fire.
I'm here in front of the church with NPR's Debbie Elliott. This church, affectionately known in the city as Mother Emanuel, is right in the heart of downtown Charleston. And Debbie, you came out here early this morning. What've you been seeing?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: You know, this has become a place of corporate mourning, is what I would call it. People from all over the city walk past here every day, it's right in the center of town. The brown spire of the white Gothic church is a landmark here. People work and live nearby. But today they're stopping. They're stopping in front of the church. They're leaving flowers. They're leaving mementos. They're leaving notes. They're leaving Bible scripture. There's a note that says, love one another. This is where Charleston has sort of come today to come to grips with what has happened here. Now, it's also very dramatic because there's still police tape and barricades everywhere, so it's very clear that there's an investigation underway. There are FBI agents right here in the back parking lot.
CORNISH: What else are people telling you?
ELLIOTT: You know, the people who have been stopping have been saying this is just something that's hard to understand, how such a brutal crime could happen in their community, much less in a sacred space - in a church. And there's been a really wide range of emotions, and I want to give you a little bit of a sense of that. For instance, Gail Pinckney stopped by on her way to work this morning. She's a teacher at a local day care here.
GAIL PINCKNEY: And I feel I just need to be out here to show love and just - I don't know how you go through the day really. I just don't know.
ELLIOTT: Pinckney grew up nearby and knew some of the victims, including the pastor and state senator, Clementa Pinckney - no relation.
PINCKNEY: It's just so sad. It just hurts.
ELLIOTT: She pauses to hug a woman in scrubs who just pulled up to the curb.
Is this a friend of yours?
PINCKNEY: I just met her. I just hugged her up because we out here for the same reason.
KENDRA GADSDEN: For the same reason - couldn't even go to work, and I just thought that I had to come out here to show how hurt - I mean, this is Charleston. Never thought, never dreamed that this would happen here.
ELLIOTT: Kendra Gadsden was born and raised here.
GADSDEN: To think that you can come into a church and be at peace, and for someone to come in a church where you're supposed to be safe at and do something like this because the color of your skin - and we in 2015.
ELLIOTT: When, she asked, will people be safe from racial violence? The mass killing should be a wake-up call for everyone in Charleston, says William Gudger.
WILLIAM GUDGER: I think we were complacent in figuring we were doing so well in race relations, and it just brings up questions that still are, you know, and situations that are still not answered.
ELLIOTT: Gudger brought a bouquet of white roses to lay with the hundreds that are piled at the entrance to Emanuel.
GUDGER: I just thought it was appropriate to bring something. I walk by here every day.
ELLIOTT: He's a retired college professor and musician.
GUDGER: I'm a pipe organ. I play the pipe organ. So churches are special things to me.
ELLIOTT: Gudger gets choked-up speaking about the nine victims who were shot inside, lives now memorialized by nine white ribbons tied to the church's wrought-iron gate, wooden cross standing watch. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.