(SOUTH CAROLINA, S.C.) — Nine people were killed in an apparent hate crime when a gunman opened fire in a historic Charleston, South Carolina church Wednesday evening and police were searching for the suspect.
Charleston police chief Greg Mullen said that eight people were found dead inside the church. Two other people were rushed to the hospital and one died.
Authorities have not released any of the victim’s identities but confirmed that there were survivors who were inside the church at the time of the shooting.
“It is senseless. It is unfathomable that somebody would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” Mayor Joe Riley said at a press conference early Thursday evening.
Mullen said that the FBI is on the scene and working with local authorities, as they would in any shooting of this “size and scope” but both Mullen and Riley said they believed it was a hate crime.
“The only reason someone would walk into church and shoot people praying is hate,” Riley said.
Mullen added that the city will be offering a reward for information about the suspect but the amount will be set later in the day.
Investigators believe that “as far as we know right now” there was only one suspect but they consider him to be armed and dangerous.
The shooting happened around 9 p.m. on Wednesday and police said they were looking for a 21-year-old white man with sandy blond hair and a slender build wearing a gray hoodie, blue jeans and Timberland boots.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, built in 1891, is the oldest of it’s kind in the South, according to their website. It is listed among the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
It has played a role in the civil rights movement. Coretta Scott King led an estimated group of 1,500 demonstrators there during a protest in 1969 and they faced down national guardsmen, according to historic reports of the incident.
Outside the Courtyard Marriott, down the street from the church, a group of pastors gathered to pray.
“We need that peace, Lord,” members of the prayer circle were heard saying. “We need that peace you talk about in your word.”
A man in the prayer circle spoke to ABC News affiliate WCIV-TV briefly after calling for answers.
“We’re asking the community to just remain peaceful, but at the same time we want some answers as to how this happened and why,” the man said.
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