Gunman on run after nine slain in attack on US black church
Late Breaking: Suspect Dylann Roof is caught by police
A white gunman was on the run Thursday after fatally shooting at least nine people in a historic black church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina in what police called a hate crime.
Worshippers were attending a prayer meeting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening when the gunman walked in and opened fire, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said.
The shooting comes at a time of heightened racial tensions in America, after several high-profile killings of unarmed black men at the hands of white police in recent months led to riots and a national debate on race.
In Wednesday’s shooting, eight people were killed inside the church, and another victim died at a trauma center shortly after. Several other people were wounded.
“At this point, we have nine victims in this hideous crime that has been committed,” Mullen told journalists.
Among the dead was the church’s pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator, the Charleston Post and Courier reported, citing church members, friends and political colleagues.
Police said the suspect was a clean-shaven white man in his early 20s. As of 4:00 a.m. Thursday (0800 GMT), he remained at large and officers swarmed the city with the help of helicopters and tracking dogs to try to find him.
“He obviously is extremely dangerous,” Mullen said.
Officers also investigated a possible bomb threat after the shoot- ing, but several hours later gave the all-clear.
Charleston is known locally as “The Holy City,” due to its large number of churches and historical mix of immigrant ethnic groups that brought a variety of creeds to the city on the Atlantic coast.
“This is the most unspeakable and heart- breaking tragedy,” Mayor Joseph Riley said.
“People in prayer on a Wednesday evening. A ritual coming together, praying and worshipping God. To have an awful person come in and shoot them is, is inexplicable.”
(Left) Police talk to a man outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17. (Right) This security camera footage handout grab released by the Charleston (South Carolina) Police Department on Thursday, June 18 and obtained on the city of Charleston Facebook page shows the man suspected of killing nine people in a shooting at a historic black church.