South Carolina Officials Say Mass Shooting at Historic Black South Carolina Church Is Hate Crime
"The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate," said Charleston, South Carolina mayor Joe Riley at a press conference this morning following a mass shooting Wednesday night at one of Charleston’s oldest African-American churches. The massacre left nine dead, including 41-year-old Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church pastor and a South Carolina state representative. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, according to Charleston police chief Greg Mullen.
Photos of the gunman, who remains at large, and what has been identified as his car were released by the CPD early Thursday morning. Charles Francis, a spokesman for the police department, told the Charleston Post and Courier that the suspect is a “21-year-old white male in a gray sweatshirt/hoodie and jeans with Timberland boots” with a “slender build.”
“This is a very dangerous individual. We want to identify and arrest [him] before he hurts anyone else,” Mullen said at a press conference this morning, according to the AP. He called the shooting an “unspeakable tragedy” and said officials were focused on finding “this awful person and bring[ing] him to justice as soon as possible.”
Officers called to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church just after the shooting arrived to find eight people already dead at the scene. A ninth victim was pronounced dead at the hospital. The shooting took place during the church’s weekly Wednesday Bible study meetings. The suspect reportedly spent at least an hour participating in Bible study before opening fire.
City leaders indicated that there are survivors, but did not provide further information about their names or condition at this time.
The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI have announced that they will open a hate crime investigation into the shooting.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, described on its website as “the oldest AME church in the south,” has roots dating back to 1787. The current church building, rebuilt following a fire and earthquake, has stood on its site in downtown Charleston since 1891, and is “one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland.”
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who had previously announced plans to campaign in South Carolina on Thursday, has canceled that scheduled appearance. Across social media, Bush and political figures including South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott and Hillary Clinton issued statements and condolences.
A flyer being circulated by police asks those with any information about the suspect to call 1-800-CALLFBI (1-800-225-5324).