UPDATE 7:45 a.m. – Police in Charleston, South Carolina have released photos of the suspect they believe opened fire in a historic black church last night, killing nine people.
The photos, taken from surveillance video, are also of a vehicle police believe the gunman used.
Authorities say a white man in his early 20s, with sandy blonde hair, wearing a distinctive sweatshirt, walked into the historically black Emanuel AME Church during a prayer service and began shooting.
CHARLESTON, SC – A gunman remains at large after nine people were fatally shot just after 9 P.M. on Wednesday night, during a bible study session at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. Officials are calling the shooting a hate crime. The church where the shooting occurred is one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent African-American churches.
According to officials, 8 people died at the scene and 2 others were injured. Two of the wounded were rushed to the hospital and one of those victims later died. Among the victims was the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, a Democratic member of the state Senate.
At a press conference with Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., City of Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said “I do believe this was a hate crime.” The Charleston Police Department said that the shooting took place at 110 Calhoun St. Authorities are searching for a white male in his 20’s. We’re told the suspect was wearing a gray sweatshirt (possibly a hoodie) and Timberland boots. Chief Mullen said that a reward will be offered and the suspect is “extremely dangerous.”
Chief Mullen addressed the recent violence in Charleston and said “We need the community to look at this and say: We have had enough of this violence and if we stand up together, we can stop this violence. And that’s what we need the community to do. I understand that people might be angry and I understand that people might be upset. And that is certainly emotions that we all understand but what we need to do is come together and help us, to one support the families, support our community and catch this person so he doesn’t hurt somebody else.”
“This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy,” Mayor Joe Riley Jr. said early Thursday, saying the gunman had to be a “hate-filled person.”
The City of Charleston Mayor, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., and Police Chief Gregory Mullen will hold a press conference at the Charleston Maritime Center at 7:00 A.M. on Thursday, June 18th. Charleston County Coroner, Rae Wooten, will release the names of the victims after the families are notified.
The Rev. Norvel Goff, presiding elder of the Edisto District of the state conference of the AME Church, said a prayer vigil would be held at noon Thursday.
Our crews on scene tell us about 30 emergency responders are on scene. Of those responders, The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the investigation and the search for the gunman.
The City of Charleston Police Department has kept the public updated on their twitter account. At 3:14 A.M. they said Police are still searching for shooting suspect for incident at 110 Calhoun Street. They say anyone with information about the shooting should call Charleston Dispatch at 743-7200.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who had been scheduled to campaign Thursday in Charleston, canceled the events “due to the tragic events unfolding in South Carolina tonight,” his campaign said.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was in South Carolina campaigning earlier Wednesday but left the state before the shooting took place. “Heartbreaking news from Charleston – my thoughts and prayers are with you all,” she said in a Tweet.
Both Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott have already released statements on shooting.
Gov. Haley said, “Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church. 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. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”
Senator Scott said, “My heart is breaking for Charleston and South Carolina tonight. This senseless tragedy at a place of worship – where we come together to laugh, love and rejoice in God’s name – is absolutely despicable and can never be understood. Tonight we stand together in prayer for Pastor Pinckney and his congregation at Emanuel AME , and for the families who are enduring unimaginable pain at the loss of their loved ones. We will come together as a city and as a state to lift up those who need us most right now. I hope for their sake, and for the people of Charleston, that the perpetrators of this terrible crime are swiftly brought to justice.”