As more than 1,500 mourners gathered Wednesday for the funeral of Townville Elementary School student Jacob Hall, the message they heard again and again was clear: We must forgive.
Jacob, 6, was mortally wounded Sept. 28 when a shooter opened fire on the school playground. Jacob died Saturday, surrounded by his family and wrapped in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blanket.
A teenager, 14-year-old Jesse Osborne of Townville, is accused in the shooting, in which a first-grade teacher and two other students were also hurt.
"I can't make sense of it; I cannot," said Tim Marcengill, associate pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church in Townville. "In 30 years of ministry, this is the most difficult thing that I have ever experienced with a family, a church, a community and even the world."
Marcengill said that Jacob's mother, Renae Hall, told him Jacob shared something with her just days before he died.
"He said: 'Mama, Jesus loves everyone. Even those people who do bad things.'"
David Blizzard, the senior pastor at Oakdale Baptist Church, told the congregation that people in Townville can be like congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Families there have expressed forgiveness toward an accused gunman who killed nine people at the church.
"Certainly, we have the same Jesus that Mother Emanuel has," Blizzard said. "And we can forgive if we choose to."
Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Tim Scott were among those who attended Jacob's funeral.
Some pews were also set aside for teachers from Townville Elementary School and firefighters from Townville.
Volunteer firefighter Jamie Brock, who is credited with stopping the gunman, walked in with the Hall family and was seated with them.
Outside the church, a small group gathered and held a sign that read: "Jesus, protect our children from gun violence."
Jacob's service ended with the congregation singing "Jesus Loves Me."
John Buckland, who was dressed as Batman, gave the crowd a challenge.
"Take what you have learned from Jacob," he said. "Let it make you a better husband, a better father, a better brother, a better sister, a better everything."
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