Nine dead in mass shooting at historic black church in South Carolina

Charleston Police Department

Police are searching for a gunman and piecing together details after a shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., left nine people dead, sparking national attention.

{mosads}”This tragedy that we’re addressing right now is indescribable. No one in this community will ever forget this night,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said during a press briefing Thursday morning.

The suspected gunman, described as a white male, approximately 21 years old, attended a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston for about an hour before opening fire, Mullen said.

Six females and three males are dead, including eight victims police found at the church with gunshot wounds. Another person died while being transported to a local hospital, according to police.

“This is an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled by hate and with a deranged mind,” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley said during the briefing.

“We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family,” Riley added of Emanuel AME Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and the oldest AME Church in the South.

Authorities are working to contact the families of the victims, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state senator, according to multiple reports.

Three people are being questioned after surviving the shooting, which was reported to authorities shortly after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, according to police.

The police chief said at two separate news briefings that he had “no doubt” the shooting was a hate crime, saying he was “confident” charges could be brought against the suspect.

Charleston police are coordinating with the FBI and several federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to find the suspected gunman, a younger white male with sandy blonde hair wearing a gray sweatshirt according to photos released by police Thursday morning.


More photos of the suspect in the shooting that occurred at Emmanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street on June 17. Call 1-800-CALL-FBI with any information about this incident.

Posted by City of Charleston, SC Government on Thursday, June 18, 2015

“From the time this call came in, we had resources coming form all over the East Coast,” Mullen said. “We are not leaving any stone unturned.”

Police are also unsure if the shooting was connected to a bomb threat in the area, but are still following up on leads.

“The only reason somebody would walk into a church and shoot people without a reason is out of hate,” Riley said late on Wednesday. “It is the most dastardly act that one could imagine, and we will bring that person to justice as soon as possible.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said in a statement on Wednesday that she and her family “are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church.”

“While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” she added. “Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”

Other lawmakers expressed grief over the shooting, including South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan (R), who expressed support for the family of the church’s pastor, a former colleague.

The Charleston area saw national attention in April after Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot by Michael Slager, a white police officer. Slager faces a murder charge for the shooting, which was caught on video.

Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate, had called Scott’s mother earlier Wednesday during a campaign stop in the state. “Heartbreaking news from Charleston – my thoughts and prayers are with you all,” Clinton tweeted late Wednesday.

Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, was expected to visit Charleston on Thursday. His campaign announced in a statement around midnight that his events had been canceled.

“Governor Bush’s thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by this tragedy,” a spokeswoman said.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change tweeted a photo of King at the church and condemned “racism, hate, war and violence.”

This report, first published on June 17 at 11:24 p.m., has been updated.

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