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Thousands attend Obama's eulogy for church shooting victims

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive on Air Force One, Friday, June 26, 2015, at Joint Base Charleston near Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive on Air Force One, Friday, June 26, 2015, at Joint Base Charleston near Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Mourners embrace next to the casket of Sen. Clementa Pinckney before his funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman) Mourners embrace next to the casket of Sen. Clementa Pinckney before his funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Thousands of mourners joined in song, sorrow and applause Friday as President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for nine black churchgoers who police said were slain in a racially motivated attack.

The "Mother Emanuel" choir, hundreds strong, led roughly 6,000 people in a medley of spiritual standards as the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney began.

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, Pinckey's Senate suitemate and his personal lawyer, promised to take care of his two daughters and keep pressing on issues Pinckney cared about, such as equitable health care and social justice.

Applause rang out as he noted how the slayings have suddenly prompted a reevaluation of symbols that came out of the Civil War and were used to assert white supremacy during the South's segregation era.

"All the change you wanted to see and all the change you wanted to do — because of you, we will see the Confederate flag come down in South Carolina," Malloy said.

But he also urged the crowd to keep working for the racial and political unity Charleston has experienced since the shootings. After all, he said, Pinckney's last act was to open his church to a stranger.

"Let us not close the doors that Sen. Pinckney gave his life for us to open," he said.

The slayings have also exposed the scant appetite in Washington for even beginning to debate gun control, an issue that has made no progress during Obama's presidency.

Obama's remarks will focus on the victims more than delicate political issues, White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested.

"The president will be mindful of not just how sad it is that those individuals were taken from us, but also use the occasion to celebrate their lives," he said.

The somber setting in Charleston provided a marked contrast to the jubilant mood at the White House, where Obama and his advisers celebrated back-to-back Supreme Court rulings upholding Obamacare and gay marriage.

Justice Department officials broadly agree that the shootings inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church meet the legal requirements for a hate crime, meaning federal charges are likely, a federal law enforcement source told The Associated Press on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Metal detectors, bag searches and the visible presence of Secret Service agents throughout the arena at the College of Charleston added to heightened sensibilities at Friday's service, another wrenching but cathartic occasion for the community to say goodbye.

"I'm here to hear Obama speak hopefully on racism, forgiveness and justice," said Wannetta Mallette, of North Charleston, where a white police officer faces murder charges in the shooting of an unarmed black man. "I think everyone is here to share in the grief and sorrow," she said.

Also coming were first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was there, too, along with dozens of state and federal lawmakers.

The lines started forming at 3:30 a.m. Friday. The Obamas arrived in Charleston early in the afternoon.

A viewing center at the Charleston Museum also was at capacity, and the service was broadcast live around South Carolina.

Jacob Reid of Summerville woke his two daughters at 4 a.m. to make the drive to honor his friend.

"The Rev. Pinckney really inspired them," he said. "He was a gentleman, easy to talk with. Very humble."

The revelation that Dylann Storm Roof had embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, posing with the rebel battle flag and burning the U.S. flag in photos posted online, prompted a stunning turnaround on symbols that have played a large role in Southern identity.

Gov. Nikki Haley moved first, asking lawmakers Monday to bring down the flag outside South Carolina's Statehouse. Other politicians then leaped through that opening, saying that historic but divisive symbols no longer deserve places of honor.

Some have worried about people taking matters into their own hands.

"Black Lives Matter" has been spray-painted on monuments around the South. Police are also investigating arson attacks against two African-American churches — in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Macon, Georgia.

In Charleston, gestures of forgiveness by the victims' families when the 21-year-old suspect appeared on murder and gun charges last Friday set a healing tone.

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Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

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