Eight died at the scene in downtown Charleston, South Carolina; a ninth died at a hospitalThe incident is being called a hate crime by authoritiesThe suspect is still at large, police say
Charleston, South Carolina
— There are nine victims, all were killed. Six are female. Three are male.
— The suspect is in his early 20s, 5’9″ in height. “He has on a very distinctive sweatshirt as well as the vehicle, with a very disctintive license plate,” the police chief said.
— Police believe he is still in the Charleston area.
— “This is an all hands on deck effort with the community as well as law enforcement,” Mullen said. “When people go out they should be vigilant, they should be aware of their surroundings. And if they see anything suspicious, they should call law enforcement.”
A white man walked into a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and opened fire during a Bible study class, killing nine people Wednesday evening.
The suspect was still at large early Thursday morning. And the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the South, is being investigated as a hate crime.
“The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate,” said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
Eight churchgoers died at the scene; a ninth at a hospital, police said. Among them is the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, according to CNN affiliate WCSC.
Officials wouldn’t say how many people were at the Bible study during the shooting. There were survivors, said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, but he didn’t elaborate.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been a presence in Charleston since 1816 when African-American members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church formed their own congregation after a dispute over burial grounds.
It was burned to the ground at one point, but rebuilt. Over and over throughout its history, it overcame obstacle after obstacle – destroyed by an earthquake, banned by the state. But its church members persevered, making it the largest African-American church in terms of seating space in Charleston today.
Every Wednesday evening, the church holds a Bible study in its basement.
The shooting was “obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible,” the mayor said.
“People in prayer Wednesday evening. A ritual, a coming together, praying, worshiping God. An awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable,” Riley said.
Police received the first call around 9:05 p.m. Officers arrived to find several victims inside.
“It’s really bad. It’s a very bad scene,” local pastor Thomas Dixon said.
Search on for suspect
Police said the suspect in the shooting is a clean-shaven white man in his early 20s, 5’9″ with a slender build and sandy blonde hair. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots.
“He obviously is extremely dangerous,” Chief Mullen said.
Thursday morning, police handed out images of the man and his car taken from surveillance footage and asked for the public’s help in identifying the man. Officials believe he is still in the Charleston area, but have contacted law enforcement authorities elsewhere to be on the lookout.