Tragedy strikes Charleston, South Carolina

  • Keith McDaniel, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, seated left, and Ron Henderson, pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, seated right, are surrounded by others in prayer for the victims of Wednesday’s shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 18, 2015 at Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church in Spartanburg. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in the slayings of several people, including the pastor, at a prayer meeting inside the historic black church in downtown Charleston. 
  • State Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) gets emotional as he sits next to the draped desk of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. 
  • Noah Nicolaisen, of Charleston, S.C., kneels at a makeshift memorial down the street from the Emanuel AME Church, where several people were killed, June 18, 2015. 
  • In this image taken from video on June 18, 2015, Martha Watson, left, and Tarsha Moseley embrace at a makeshift memorial near Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church Wednesday night, killing several people. The shooter remained at large Thursday morning. 
  • A passing motorist looks out her window as she stops at an intersection down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C.
  • Kim Hamby, right, prays with her daughter Kayla 4, as they lay flowers at a makeshift memorial down the street from where a white man opened fire Wednesday night during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church killing several people in Charleston, S.C., June 18, 2015.
  • Lisa Doctor joins a prayer circle down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. 
  • Charleston police officers search for a shooting suspect outside the Emanuel AME Church, in downtown Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church killing several people. The shooter remained at large Thursday morning. 
  • Surreace Cox, of North Charleston, S.C., holds a sign during a prayer vigil down the street from the Emanuel AME Church, June 18, 2015, following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. 
  • Police investigators are seen outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the oldest AME church in the South, where multiple shooting victims have been reported in Charleston, S.C., June 17, 2015.
  • The steeple of Emanuel AME Church is visible as police close off a section of Calhoun Street early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C.
  • A man kneels across the street from where police gather outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Worshippers gather to pray down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Police talk to a man outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
  • An FBI agent walks across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
  • A man reacts while talking to police officer near the scene of shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., June 17, 2015.
  • Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Police close off a section of Calhoun Street near the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.

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Updated

A gunman shot to death nine church members who had gathered for Bible study and prayer Wednesday night at one of the nation’s oldest black churches.

Among the dead was beloved pastor Clementa Pinckney, a longtime state senator who spent the earlier part of the day campaigning in the city with Hillary Clinton. South Carolina Police Chief Gregory Mullen called the shooting “a hate crime” in a press conference after midnight.

The gunman, who the police chief described as “a white male, 21 years old with sandy blond hair,” remained at large early Thursday. Mullen said the suspect is “extremely dangerous.”

The police chief said there were wounded victims in addition to the dead, but he did not say how many.

The violence erupted at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, the oldest such congregation in the South, known as much for the role it played at significant moments of racial distress as for its grand Gothic architecture.

It was the second time in three months that violence, death and race mixed in Charleston with black victims and a suspected white shooter.

In April, a white police officer fired eight bullets at Walter Scott, an unarmed African American man, killing him. The officer was charged with murder and is currently facing trial.

On a campaign stop in the city Wednesday, Clinton spoke passionately about police violence, calling Scott’s death a “terrible tragedy.” She left the city before the shooting occurred, a campaign aide confirmed. Pastor Pinckney returned after the event to the AME church, where Bible study was underway Wednesday around 9:00 p.m. local time when the shooting occurred. 

Community members, clearly distraught, held impromptu prayer circles and gathered into the night as tensions ran high. At one point, police pushed back residents and reporters because of a bomb threat, which was later lifted.

“This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience,” Mullen said in the early Thursday press conference. “I assure we will do everything in our power to find this individual and lock him up.”

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

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