Mourners gathered outside Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, at just before midnight on Thursday evening to honor the nine people shot to death in what is being called a hate-crime massacre.
Amid the crowd stood 23-year-old Curtis Clayton, who’d assembled together with a small group of protestors outside the church that was the sight of the fatal shooting. “It started here, It’s gonna end here,” read his hand-drawn sign.
Clayton told PEOPLE he wasn’t only there to mourn the dead. “This is Charleston, South Carolina,” he said. “Right down the street is where the slaves were sold at. They still got that building up. White people want us to let bygones be bygones. But this is where our war started at. ”
He added: “Last night, a young white man went into an all black church and shot and killed 9 people. That’s just allowed. I think that the city of Charleston is going to sweep this under the rug.”
Jeri Akins, 48, was more calm, but still upset by the brutal violence. “I’m not sure what to think about this kid,” she told PEOPLE. “I don’t understand why his father hasn’t apologized for his buying his son that gun.”
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Akins, who drove 30 minutes from her home in Goose Creek as soon as she heard about the massacre, added that one of her customers was a first-responder on the scene.
“He said it was the most horrific scene he s ever seen,” she said. “He’s beside himself. He’s a mess. He said that church looks awful in there, blood everywhere.”
Individuals who want to donate in memory of the victims of the Charleston church massacre are asked to text “prayforcharleston” to 843-606-5995 or donate online at the Palmetto Project.
• Reporting by ALEXANDRA ROCKEY FLEMING
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