CHARLESTON, SC (CNN) -- Clementa Pinckney died Wednesday doing the work he had always felt was right for him to do.
He was spreading the biblical word when he and eight others were gunned down on Wednesday in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Pinckney, who was 42, first answered the call to preach nearly 30 years ago, at the age of 13, according to a biography on the church website.
And he was, it appears, a high achiever all his life. He was first appointed a pastor when he was 18. He graduated from Allen University -- magna cum laude, of course. He had been president of the student body, as well.
Ebony Magazine included him as one of its "Top College Students in America."
'Not cynical about politics'
In 1996, at the age of 23, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, the youngest black person ever elected to the the Legislature in South Carolina. Four years later, at the age of 27, he was elected to the state Senate.
Pinckney pushed for legislation to make police wear body cameras, believing it would "make a difference" and "better protect lives," said his cousin, state Sen. Kent Williams.
When he was in the Legislature, the national recognition of his achievements continued. Washington Post columnist David Broder called Pinckney a "political spirit lifter for surprisingly not becoming cynical about politics."
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, a former governor of South Carolina, was among those who paid tribute Thursday.
"He was a remarkable human being," Sanford told CNN's "New Day." "He had a gravelly, deep voice -- a radio announcer's voice if you will, and he approached life with that same level of gravitas."
Williams, Pinckney's cousin, said the shooting was something he could never have imagined.
"He was a man of character," Williams said of Pinckney. "He was a God-fearing man. He was a family man."
"He had a passion for helping the poor, for helping to improve the quality of life for all mankind," Williams said. "But especially those who are the least among us."
Pinckney left a wife, Jennifer, and two children, Eliana and Malana.
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