Former Charleston residents react to church shooting

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -  The fatal shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina church has a ripple effect across the country, both in and out of the religious community.

While local preachers are responding with prayer and encouraging others to keep their faith close, north Alabama residents who once called Charleston home say they cannot help but stay on top of the developing events.

"In Charleston, that's one of the largest AME (African Methodist Episcopal) churches in the nation," said Alabama A&M student Jerome Simmons, originally from Charleston.

Affectionately called 'Mother,' Emanuel AME is not only historic, but know to everyone who lived there, whether you worshiped there or not.

"I was standing in front of that church as a little child," said Julian Johnson, also a Charleston native currently attending A&M. He recalls the parades in the downtown area vividly. "To think someone would just go in church and killing innocent people, it's just mind boggling."

Barbara Stoval, working with the library at Oakwood University, lived in the city for years, and echoes the shock over a church she says she drove past everyday.

"For someone to target a church period -- but especially that church, what would drive a person to do something like that."

"Waking up this morning, I had seven text messages, 'I'm praying for your city, I heard about your city,'" said Simmons.

With such a large church, congregation, and reach, the names of the victims are familiar, even for some here in Huntsville.

"An evangelist at my church got killed in the shooting," said Johnson.

"I have a friend that went to high school with me, her grandmother got shot," said Simmons. He goes on to say a loss so close to home hit him hard, and he realizes it could easily be anyone's grandmother, including his own.

The shooting was reportedly a hate crime, but these residents say they're not angry, they're worried.

"Regardless of the race of whatever church it may be, you went in a sanctuary and just started killing innocent people," said Johnson. "The fact that you prayed with them before you killed them -- what was going through your mind?"

"You got into the house of the Lord seeking refuge, comfort, support," began Stoval. "And you hear of tragedy and death. I can't imagine."

Want to help?

Charleston’s mayor has set up a fund accessible at all Wells Fargo locations where supporters can safely donate to the families of the victims. You can make a check out to:

Mother Emanuel Hope Fund

C/O City of Charleston

P.O. Box 304 Charleston, SC 29402.

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