A white gunman has shot and killed 9 people at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
At 9pm local time on Wednesday evening, a white gunman entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and shot and killed 9 people during a bible study class. 8 died at the scene, while the ninth died in hospital later.
The suspect is still at large at the time of writing. In a tweet, Charleston police described him as: “a w/m [white male] approx 21 slender small build wearing a grey sweat shirt blue jeans timberland boots clean shaven.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told reporters that “to have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable, obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible.” He went on to say “the only reason someone could walk into a church to shoot people praying is out of hate.” Charleston police chief Gregory Mullen confirmed: “It will be investigated as a hate crime”.
Soon after the shooting, residents and churchgoers stood in circles outside the nearby hotel, hands clasped and heads bowed in prayer.
The Emanuel Church, referred to locally as “Mother Emanuel”, is one the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the USA. It has its roots in the 19th Century, and is now home to one of the largest black congregations in the southern states.
The shooting comes after racial tensions escalated in the area in April, when a white police officer shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in North Charleston. It prompted widespread unrest and rioting. The police officer was later charged with murder.