By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - The city of Charleston came together on Friday for a memorial and other events to mark the first anniversary of the killings of nine members of a Bible study group in what prosecutors described as a racially motivated hate crime.
The events were made even more poignant coming less than a week after a gunman slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, marking the largest of many mass shootings in modern U.S. history.
There was tight security for the memorial in the city's TD Arena, where a stage was fronted by banner portraits of each of the nine victims and backed by the flags of many countries. Hundreds of people were expected to attend the ecumenical service.
President Barack Obama had eulogized the victims of the rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including its slain minister and state Senator Clementa Pinckney, in the same arena last year.
The accused gunman, Dylann Roof, 22, could face the death penalty on state murder charges and on federal hate crime charges. Roof is white, while his victims were African American.
As well as the memorial, events including Bible study sessions, prayer breakfasts and tree plantings were arranged to take place around Charleston. The church also will open its doors to religious leaders and elected officials from around the nation on Friday afternoon.
Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was due to speak during a unity walk on Saturday sponsored by the church and Hate Won't Win, a movement started by a granddaughter of one of the victims.
The church has had many visitors over the past year, Emanuel's new pastor, the Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark, told Reuters during a recent Bible study meeting in the room where the members died last June.
"I believe we're moving forward ... Forgiveness is the message of the hour," Clark said. "To say forgiveness is not to negate what has taken place. We don't want to gloss over what has happened."
Odell Harris, 61, traveled to attend the memorial from the town of Eastover, also home to the accused gunman Roof. He said he visited Charleston after last year's shooting and that he was shocked by the nightclub massacre in Orlando.
"I don't know what it's going to take," Harris said, shaking his head. "We can't give up and let the devil take it."
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)