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Charleston, S.C., Mayor Says Shooting Is 'Impossible To Digest'


And I'm joined now by the mayor of Charleston, Joe Riley.

And Mayor Riley, I'm so sorry that I'm having to talk to you on such a tragic day. Thanks for being with us.

JOE RILEY: Well, thank you for the opportunity. It is a tragic day.

BLOCK: You've been mayor there in Charleston for 40 years. Fair to say, this is the worst day you've had as mayor.

RILEY: It is - the saddest. It's the heartbreaking and unfathomable fact of someone going into a church - sanctuary - sitting there for 30 or 40 minutes while the people are praying and doing their Bible study, and then pulling out a gun and killing nine of them is - and people that I knew, and the church that's revered. It's - it just is still impossible, really, to digest. And I imagine it will be a long time, certainly. We've got nine funerals to attend and families to care for. It'll be a long time to get over this.

BLOCK: You said the victims are people that you knew.

RILEY: They are. The pastor was an amazing man. He was tall, a wonderful voice, gentle, and a man with the South Carolina Senate, a leading man with the South Carolina Senate. So he was someone I worked with closely in a host of ways, and to imagine him no longer being alive is just impossible to grasp.

BLOCK: Mayor Riley, have you gotten any more information on the 21-year-old man who's been arrested? Any known connections with any hate groups, white supremacist groups?

RILEY: You know, that's still being studied. And you know, he wasn't from Charleston, so no one around here knew him. But obviously, there was something going on, I mean, some hatred, clearly to kill these people, but we don't know him. He lived probably 110 miles away, and why he decided to wreak his deadly havoc on the dear parishioners of this church, I don't know if we will ever understand that.

BLOCK: Mayor Riley, you were at that prayer vigil today. You've been out and about in Charleston. What is the message that you're hearing from people that you've been with today?

RILEY: Well, it's of great sadness, but the people of this community are full of love and they want to help. So we today announced we would create a fund so people could do something. They could give money to help the church, help with the expenses of these nine people being killed and their families. And the outpouring of generosity and desire to do something is extraordinary.

BLOCK: You said on this program a couple of months ago, Mayor Riley, that you originally sought the job as mayor of Charleston, as you put it, mainly to build a bridge between the African-American and the white community. And I wonder if a hate-crime like this one, targeting a black church, shakes your faith in that in any way?

RILEY: No. You know, really, Melissa, it's quite the opposite. I think because of the bridges that have been built, and this clearly was someone from away, the reaction has not been, you know, a racially divisive kind of a reaction at all. Because a service I attended today was a racially-mixed service, with a white clergyman there and citizens and African-Americans. So I think the fact that bridges are built solidly - that this horrific event did not rip the city asunder, but rather, we had built a strong foundation that has enabled us to withstand this - in many ways makes the community even stronger.

BLOCK: Well, Mayor Riley, it's good to talk to you. Thanks so much for taking the time.

RILEY: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Mayor Joe Riley, the mayor of Charleston, S.C. for the past 40 years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.