Police in Charleston, USA, have announced that a white gunman opened fire on Wednesday night, June 17, at a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C, killing nine people before fleeing.
The New York Times reports that the Charleston police chief, Greg Mullen, at a news conference with the Mayor early Thursday, called the shooting a hate crime.
“It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church while they are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” he said.
According to police reports, the gunman in question walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church around 9.00pm and began shooting.
Eight people were said to have died at the scene.
Chief Mullen said that two people were taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, but one of them died on the way.
“Obviously, this is the worst night of my career. This is clearly a tragedy in the city of Charleston,” Chief Mullen said.
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City officials held back information about the victims and did not say how many people were in the church during the shooting. Hospital officials also declined to comment.
The Mayor of Charleston, Joseph P. Riley Jr. said the city was offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunman. The police described the trigger happy hoodlum as a clean-shaven white man about 21 years of age.
They say he was wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots.
Chief Mullen described him as “extremely dangerous. To walk into a church and shoot someone, is out of pure hatred,” the mayor added while leaving the press conference.
As at the time of this report, the law enforcement officers from the F.B.I.; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division; and other agencies were assisting. Chief Mullen said the police were tracking the gunman with police dogs.
At about 10.45 pm, police officers were seen escorting a man in handcuffs who appeared to match the attacker’s description. But officials said later that they were still searching for the gunman.
It was reported that in the first hours after the shooting, the police blocked reporters and passers-by from approaching the church, opposite a Marriott Courtyard hotel, because of a bomb threat.
Many among the cluster of media workers were political reporters in town to cover campaign events of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush.
Helicopters were said to have beamed their searchlights to circled overhead, and a group of pastors knelt and prayed across the street.
The church is one of the America's oldest black churches. According to the website of the National Park Service, the congregation was formed by black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church who broke away “over disputed burial ground.”
Earlier on, it wasn't clear if he was present at the time of the shooting, but that has been disregarded as it indeed confirmed that the senator was part of those shot dead.
Chicago Tribune reports that the State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press that the church's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.
Pinckney 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.
Rutherford said:"He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should. He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody," he added.
In a more recent development, the FBI has identified the suspect who opened fire into the historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night, killing nine people.
He has been identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof. And as of the time of this report the police say that he has been caught and is now in custody.
Press briefings are to follow immediately.
News of survivors are emerging, one of which happens to be a five-year-old child who played dead to survive. Speaking to NBC News is Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of church shooting victim Pastor Clementa Pinckney.
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She said she had spoken with one of the survivors, who told her that the shooter reloaded five times.
"And he just said 'I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go," she added.
The shooter reportedly joined a bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before opening fire on church-goers. The campaign staff of Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, said late Wednesday, that he was canceling appearances planned for Thursday in Charleston because of the shooting.
Report has it that Mrs. Clinton was in Charleston on Wednesday, but an aide said she had left the city before the shooting.