Nine people are dead — including a South Carolina state senator — after a suspected lone gunman opened fire during Bible study at a Charleston, S.C. church Wednesday night in what police believe could be a hate crime.
Charleston police chief Greg Mullen said during an early morning press conference that a white male believed to be around 21 years old entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church at around 9 p.m. local time.
Mullen said that eight people were killed by the gunman inside the church. Two more parishioners were transported to the hospital where one died.
Charleston Police released photos Thursday morning of the suspect and his car, and said he is “considered armed and dangerous.”
Mullen declined to provide many details about the shooting and did not say how many people survived the attack. Though Mullen did not name any of the victims, numerous news outlets reported that the church’s senior reverend, Clementa Pinckney, was also killed. Pinckney, 41, served as a South Carolina state senator.
The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed Thursday that federal officials are planning to investigate the attack as a hate crime.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said on Twitter that Pinckney helped lead a prayer vigil following the April shooting of Walter Scott. Scott, who was black, was shot numerous times while running away from North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. Slager, who is white, has been charged with first-degree murder.
Rev. Clements Pinckney, a SC legislator is among the 9 killed in SC church. I am reminded that he helped lead our prayer vigil for Scott.
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) June 18, 2015
“I do believe this is a hate crime,” Mullen said when asked by reporters if the attack appeared to be racially-motivated.
According to Emanuel’s website, the church is the oldest AME branch in the South. AME churches are predominantly black and have 7.5 million members across the U.S.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement shortly after the shooting.
“Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church,” Haley said. “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. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush announced Wednesday night that he was canceling a campaign stop scheduled for Thursday in South Carolina.
South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also issued a statement.
“My heart is breaking for Charleston and South Carolina tonight. This senseless tragedy at a place of worship — where we come together to laugh, love and rejoice in God’s name — is absolutely despicable and can never be understood,” said Scott, who plans to travel from Washington, D.C. to South Carolina on Thursday.
“Tonight we stand together in prayer for Pastor Pinckney and his congregation at Emanuel AME, and for the families who are enduring unimaginable pain at the loss of their loved ones,” continued Scott, who is black. “We will come together as a city and as a state to lift up those who need us most right now. I hope for their sake, and for the people of Charleston, that the perpetrators of this terrible crime are swiftly brought to justice.”
During his press conference, Mullen said that police will likely offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunman.