CHARLESTON, S.C. (NEWS10) — Police say a gunman remains at large after shooting nine people inside a church in downtown Charleston, SC in an assault that authorities are describing as a hate crime.
According to police, just after 9 p.m. on Wednesday a white male in his 20’s opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church, killing nine people including the pastor.
Eight of the victims died at the scene and two others were injured. The injured were rushed to the hospital where one victim later died.
One of the victims was the church’s pastor, 41-year-old Clementa Pinckney who is also a state senator. Police say six of the victims were women and three were men but have not released the names of the other victims pending notification of their families.
Located at 110 Calhoun St., the Emanuel AME Church is one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent African-American churches. Police say the suspect attended the prayer meeting at the church for almost an hour before opening fire.
In a press conference Thursday morning Police Chief Greg Mullen said “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a hate crime.”
Chief Mullen said the scene was chaotic when police arrived and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog but he got away. “We will put all effort, we will put all resources and we will put all of our energy into finding this individual who committed this crime tonight,” he said.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called the shooting “the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.”
“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” Riley said. “It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. This is one hateful person.”
Authorities believe the suspect was wearing a gray sweatshirt and Timberland boots. Police say he is around 5’9″ and has a slender build. He was seen leaving the church in a black four door sedan. He is considered armed and dangerous.
Police ask that anyone with information regarding the suspect’s identity or whereabouts to contact them at 1-800-CALLFBI or 1-800-225-5324.