A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston on Wednesday night, killing nine people in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. The shooter was still at large.
The shooting took place at the Emanuel AME Church, Police Chief Greg Mullen said. He said there were survivors, but would not say how many, or how many were inside at the time of the shooting. He also would not confirm whether the pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was one of the victims.
“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley. “It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. … This is one hateful person.”
The “message is there was one hateful person who did this dastardly deed”, the mayor added.
As police and the city’s mayor updated the news media, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.
Police moved members of the news media back away from the site due to what they called an “imminent” threat. They did not release any details.
The campaign of GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sent out an email saying that due to the shooting, the candidate had cancelled an event planned in the city Thursday.
The Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church.
One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.
The shooting happened the day before the eighth anniversary of a fire at a furniture store that killed nine Charleston firefighters.