Local ministers comfort each other near the site of a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist (AME) Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the South, in Charleston, South Carolina. EPA/RICHARD ELLIS

This story has been updated.

In written statements, during television appearances and across social media platforms, the 2016 presidential candidates on Thursday offered prayers and condolences to members of the Charleston, S.C., community, where nine people were killed in a church shooting Wednesday night.

Those words of support -- and horror -- were especially resonant at a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, a four-day conservative conference where several GOP presidential hopefuls addressed a primarily faith-based audience.

After taking the stage, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called for a moment of silence for the victims of the attack, saying that “Christians across our nation” were united in “lifting up the congregants at Emmanuel AME.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), diagnosing a "sickness in our country," said that a misunderstanding of faith caused such tragedies before adding that the government cannot solve the problem.

“What kind of person goes in a church and shoots nine people? There’s a sickness in our country. There’s something terribly wrong," he said. "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."

The first presidential candidate to address the conference Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), did not mention the attacks during his speech. Earlier in the day he tweeted that the "victims and their families are in my prayers today."

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (R) told a radio host Thursday morning that the attack took place in the context of broader "assaults on our religious liberty."

“All you can do is pray for those and pray for our country,” Santorum told host Joe Piscopo on New York's AM 970. “This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, 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.”

Other candidates addressed the shooting via social media on Thursday morning.

The candidates for the most part remained non-political in their statements, expressing their sorrow and offering prayers without weighing in on a question that will almost certainly surface in the coming days.

President Obama was less reserved in his remarks, calling the shooting "senseless" and "heartbreaking" while adding that ineffective gun laws facilitated the attack.

"We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun," he continued. "Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let's be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Speaking at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nev., Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton issued a pointed call to action on reforming the nation's gun laws.

"How many innocent people in our country -- from little children, church members, to movie theater attendees -- how many people do we need to see cut down before we act?" Clinton said. "So as we mourn and as our hearts break a little more, and as we send this message of solidarity that we will not forsake those who have been victimized by gun violence, this time we have to find answers together."

The most personal response came from GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s native son in the presidential election.

“Our prayers are with the families of the victims and the people of Charleston. We are all heartbroken by this tragedy,” said Graham in a statement. “To the families of the victims, please know that you are being prayed for and loved by so many in the community and across the nation. I pray that God will provide you healing in the coming days.”

Graham added that “our sense of security and well-being has been robbed and shaken.”

“There are bad people in this world who are motivated by hate. Every decent person has been victimized by the hateful, callous disregard for human life shown by the individual who perpetrated these horrible acts,” he said.

The Republican lawmaker also announced that he was canceling several campaign stops in Philadelphia and New Hampshire this weekend to return home. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and real-estate mogul Donald Trump also canceled upcoming events in South Carolina.

More reaction from the field: