Wednesday’s attack at a South Carolina church that left nine black people dead quickly triggered a bipartisan outpouring of emotional responses and prayers from the likely 2016 presidential candidates.
While most said their prayers were with the victims and their families, some went out of their way to denounce what they saw as the root cause of the violence.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said the fatal attack was a “tragic reminder of the ugly stain of racism.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said the incident was proof that “there’s a sickness in our country.” And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said there weren’t “words strong enough to describe how evil this is.”
The mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. rocked the nation.
The suspected gunman, a white man identified by authorities as Dylann Roof, was captured Thursday. The shooting was reportedly being investigated as a hate crime and one woman, whom the gunman allowed to live so that she could recount the killings, said he had made racial comments.
According to a relative of one of the victims, the woman who’d survived the attack said the gunman couldn’t be talked down and had said: “I have to do it. … You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”
Among those killed in the tragedy was South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D), a reverend at the church.
Below are emotional and colorful responses to the shooting in Charleston.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a statement Thursday saying “we are all heartbroken by this tragedy” in his home state. According to a Daily Caller reporter, Graham canceled presidential campaign events in order to return home. Graham told CNN that his niece, Emily, had been in the same eighth grade class as Roof, the suspected shooter.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Thursday on Twitter that he and his wife, Anita, were “praying today for Charleston and all who have been affected by this unspeakable tragedy.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) took to Twitter on Thursday to share his “heartfelt prayers” with the victims of the mass shooting. The candidate is a former Baptist pastor.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) on Thursday morning said there were “no words strong enough to condemn” the mass-casualty shooting. “I don’t think we have words strong enough to describe how evil this is,” the likely candidate said. “Evil, terror, whatever we want to call it. This is horrific. It’s almost unimaginable.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) on Thursday canceled all of his campaign events in Charleston, S.C. after the shootings. A spokeswoman told the Washington Post: “Governor Bush’s thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by this tragedy.” Bush also tweeted that “our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by the tragic events in Charleston.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) called the shootings an assault on “religious liberty” on Thursday during an appearance on the New York radio station AM 970. “It’s obviously a crime of hate. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be?” Santorum said. “You’re sort of lost that somebody could walk into a Bible study in a church and indiscriminately kill people. … You talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Thursday in a tweet that he was “saddened by the news from Charleston.” Rubio also said, “The victims and their families are in my prayers today.” Rubio, who spoke at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference on Thursday, did not address the Charleston shooting.
Potential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) took to Twitter on Thursday to share his “prayers for the families & friends of loved ones killed in Charleston, S.C.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Thursday that the “sickness” in America that led to the Charleston shootings can’t be solved by the government. “What kind of person goes into a church and shoots nine people?” Paul said during a speech at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference. “There’s a sickness in our country,” Paul continued. “There’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government. … It’s people straying away, it’s people not understanding where salvation comes from.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Thursday held a moment of silence for the Charleston victims during a speech at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference. “Today the body of Christ is in mourning,” Cruz said, “that a sick and deranged person came and prayed with a historically black congregation for an hour, and then murdered nine innocent souls.”
Dr. Ben Carson said his “heart aches for the families of the victims” of the Charleston shootings on Thursday in a Facebook post. Carson shared his thoughts about the tragedy in the multiple-paragraph post. “Last night evil walked the streets of Charleston,” Carson wrote. “My heart aches for the families of the victims. I pray for the families left behind. I pray for the community scared and hurting. I also pray you and I can conquer hatred.” Carson also mentioned “racial based hate” and a “new hate” that was becoming pervasive in America. “I worry about a new hate that is growing in our great nation,” Carson wrote. “I fear our intolerance of one another is the new battle ground of evil.”
Donald Trump, real estate mogul and Republican candidate, tweeted his disbelief over the Charleston shootings on Thursday. “The tragedy in South Carolina is incomprehensible,” Trump said. “My deepest condolences to all.”
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina did not appear to have released a comment as of late Thursday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) did not issue a response to the shooting. Christie has not yet declared a run for presidency.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her grief late Wednesday over the Charleston shootings. “Heartbreaking news from Charleston – my thoughts and prayers are with you all,” Clinton tweeted. On Thursday, she used the chance to talk about gun violence. “How many innocent people in our country—little children to church members to movie theater attendees—how many people do we need to see cut down before we act?” she said.
Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Thursday on Twitter that the mass shootings in Charleston were a “tragic reminder of the ugly stain of racism.” Sanders called the killings “senseless violence” that, he said, filled him with “outrage, disgust and a deep, deep sadness.” In all, Sanders released three tweets in which he lamented the tragedy and condemned racism. “The hateful killing of nine people praying inside a church is a horrific reminder that, while we have made significant progress in advancing civil rights in this country, we are far from eradicating racism,” Sanders said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and their congregation.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Thursday took to Twitter to share his sorrow over the fatal shootings that took place at the historic black church in Charleston. “My heart goes out to the victims of this tragedy & their loved ones,” O’Malley said. “Katie & I are keeping Charleston & the AME community in our prayers.”
Ahiza Garcia is a newswriter based in New York City. Before joining TPM, Ahiza interned and freelanced for Nightline, Fox Sports, and ESPN the Magazine. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Columbia University and an M.S. in digital journalism from Syracuse University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.