He arrived at the Calhoun Street church at 8:17 p.m., a pale, gaunt young man with a fishbowl haircut and putty-like features. He passed under the great steeple of Emanuel AME and opened the tall wooden door. He wore a gray sweatshirt and a dark pouch around his waist.

He was not entering just any church, but a preeminent symbol of the South’s black faith community and a sanctuary for generations of worshipers. Parishioners had gathered for their Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and they welcomed him.

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