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Charleston church shooting: 9 killed in what officials call a hate crime

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina  — [Latest developments]

— 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.”

The Charleston, South Carolina, Police Department are searching for a person they believe to be a suspect in the shooting death of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night, June 17, 2015.

The Charleston, South Carolina, Police Department are searching for a person they believe to be a suspect in the shooting death of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night, June 17, 2015.

[Full story]

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.

Historic significance

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.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South. Nine people died in a hate crime shooting on June 17, 2015.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South. Nine people died in a hate crime shooting on June 17, 2015.

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.

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.”

Late Wednesday night, news cameras showed officers taking a man matching that description into custody, but he was later released.

“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,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said.

Mullen was more direct: “I do believe this was a hate crime.”

‘Sick to our stomachs’

The church sits in an area of Charleston, densely packed with houses of worship and well-preserved old buildings.

The city, as several reverends pointed out, is known as the “Holy City” for its tolerant attitude toward different denominations.

It was led by Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator. His death was reported by affiliate WCSC, who confirmed it through Elder James Johnson, the president of the Tri-County chapter of the civil rights organization, the National Action Network.

Recently, Pinckney backed a bill to make body cameras mandatory for all police officers in South Carolina. The legislation was in response to the death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man killed by a police officer earlier this year.

“Body cameras help to record what happens. It may not be the golden ticket, the golden egg, the end-all-fix-all, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop,” Pinckney said in April.

Early Thursday morning, residents stood in circles, hands clasped and heads bowed, as they prayed.

“Like everybody out here, we’re sick to our stomachs that this could happen in a church,” Rep. Dave Mack, a friend of the church’s pastor, said.

They called for justice, but also for calm heads.

Theirs is a strong community, they said, and this incident wouldn’t tear them apart.

The head of the NAACP expressed his outrage over the shooting.

“There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” Cornell William Brooks said.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush canceled a scheduled town hall in Charleston on Thursday because of the shooting.

“As the #Charleston police deem this horrific act a hate crime,” the King Center tweeted, “we pray vigorously that this person’s hate does not cultivate more hate.”

 

6 comments

  • Rev. Kevin Kohlmeier at All Faith Solid Foundation Church

    There is so much hatred and anger and the one place that should be a safe place has now become a slaughter house. I pray that God comforts the families of those lost and I pray for the soul of the gunman and his family has well. This affects so many people on so many levels. What is so hard about loving each other? We always want to criticize others and refuse to take a good hard look at ourselves. None of us are perfect. No race is better than the next. I am so tired of black this and white that. It is one of God’s creations doing harm to another of God’s creations. Do something kind for someone today.

    • stoptheviolence

      Everytime a white individual causes harm to a black person they always bring up black on black crime. There is no such thing as black on black crime ONLY crime. When chinese people in China commit a crime do we call it chinese on chinese crime? No!! There is crime all over the world with the same ethnicities so stop trolling.

  • Joker

    You’re a joke along with Richard. The guy is a terrorist who targeted a black church. Sat with them and opened fire on them for no reason other than them being black.

    Guess that comprehension level is above your rural 6th grade homeschooled education.

  • stoptheviolence

    He walked into the church and said, “I am here to kill all the black people.” So it is considered a hate crime you have to be stupid to think otherwise. You don’t hear about black people targeting white people with the intent to kill them because of their ethnicity.

    • Joker

      Let’s call it what it really is, domestic terrorism. Had this been a Muslim killer the U.S. gov’t and every person on here would say it was a terrorist attack. Such bias and veils be some of our “counterparts.”

  • Joker

    Hey Batman, this conservative thug was out on bond from trespassing and gun charges. He killed people on the church due to them being black and taking over the country. Let me see how you spin this.

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