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My friend’s sister, who serves as Secretary at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, walked out of her office about 6 p.m. on Wednesday, just three hours before a white gunman opened fire inside the historic African American house of worship.

She was fortunate that she didn’t stay late this time, but nine of her church friends and colleagues who were in church at 9 p.m. were murdered in what police are calling a hate crime during an evening prayer service.

One of her friends was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the church and a long-serving state senator, who was reportedly shot to death while courageously trying to rush the gunman.

Witnesses said the gunman came to Emanuel AME Church for only one reason: To murder Black people.”

“She is dealing,” my friend said of his sister.

Police arrested Dylann Roof, 21, on Thursday in connection with the murders. Roof purposely left one witness alive, authorities said. Parishioners say that Roof wanted the witness to tell others about his murderous rampage. In a twisted, premeditated plan, police said Roof sat with parishioners inside the church for about an hour on Wednesday before opening fire.

This crime is senseless, tragic and insidious and speaks to a broader, racist-driven subculture where black lives are meaningless for some twisted Americans, like Roof, who told his victims that they were taking over the country and “raping our women,” police told reporters. The victims included three males and six females, police said.

How do we reconcile hate? What do we tell our children who are being raised in a nation that some consider “post-racial” America?”

“The fact that this took place in a Black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history,” President Barack Obama said during a statement at the White House on Thursday. “This is not the first time that Black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which researches U.S. hate groups, said there are 19 hate groups in South Carolina alone. They say hate groups have increased significantly across the country since President Obama was elected to the White House in 2008.

Some hard-line Republicans and hard-core conservatives continue to blame African-Americans for the nation’s social and economic troubles, which leads to a demented backlash by some white supremacists who can load a gun, point it at a Black person, and pull the trigger without giving it a second thought.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, couldn’t bring herself to call the murders a hate crime, saying she didn’t have all the facts. She’s disgraceful, but I’m glad Todd Rutherford, a Democratic state representative from Columbia, South Carolina, spoke out. Rutherford, a colleague and friend of Rev. Pinckney for years, told reporters Thursday that he was worried about violent racists, “those lunatics who are happy about” the shooting.

“That is what has to stop,” he said.

Rutherford is right, but what also has to stop is this: Family members giving guns to relatives who they suspect could be mentally unstable. A man who identified himself as Roof’s uncle earlier told Reuters that Roof’s father had recently given him a .45-caliber handgun as a birthday gift and that he had seemed troubled.

“I actually talked to him on the phone briefly for just a few moments and he was saying, ‘Well, I’m outside practicing with my new gun’,” the uncle, Carson Cowles, 56, said in a telephone interview with The Wall Street Journal.

My friend left for Charleston today to comfort his sister, to speak with members of Emanuel AME Church, and to chronicle this tragic shooting that occurred in a church known as “Mother Bethel,” the oldest AME church in the South.

While many Americans grieve for the families who lost loved ones in this senseless rampage, know this: The doors of Emanuel AME Church will open on Sunday morning to honor their fallen friends and to offer hope and spiritual guidance to those who need faith — just as they’ve done since the early 1800s.

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If you would like to donate to Emanuel AME Church in the midst of this tragedy, click HERE.