Above: SC Rep. Wendell Gilliard on Charleston shooting
7 a.m. update: The shooter who opened fire at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston Wednesday night killed six female and three male victims, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said Thursday morning.
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He also spent about an hour with the group before pulling out his weapon.
Mullen would not release the ages or identities of the victims, saying the coroner was working to release that information.
Authorities are still looking for the suspect who entered the Calhoun Street church at about 8 p.m. and joined a prayer meeting taking place at the church for about an hour before the shooting. The suspect left the scene in a black 4-door sedan.
In addition to the victims, there were three other people inside the church at the time of the shooting.
Authorities have set up a family assistance center at the Embassy Suites in downtown Charleston.
Multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are working on the case.
"We are not leaving any stone unturned," Mullen said.
"This tragedy that we're addressing right now is indescribable. ... We will catch this individual."
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, was stunned at the shooting and the loss of S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a close friend.
"My God, a holy sanctuary, you're talking about a pastor, you're talking about innocent people praying to their God, here we are in the greatest country inthe world. Should not happen.
“It's written all over the wall. We have a problem in America, not only in South Carolina or here in Charleston, but it's in America.
“We have a racial divide. We have too much people that's at the helm ... in control of TV, radio, and they're spewing hate. And we have to understand that.
“I've always been an advocate of realism. You have a problem, let's call it like it is, sit down and come up with a solution," he said.
Police also released a suveillance photo of the suspect, who was seen leaving in a four-door black sedan.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the city has been through tragedy before, and will support griefing members of the church. “We will work to heal them, love them support them and that church for as long as we live.”
From early this evening:
In one of the worst mass shootings in the state's history, a gunman opened fire during Wednesday night services at Emanuel AME Church, one of Charleston's oldest black churches in downtown Charleston.
Eight people died at the church, and a ninth person died later at MUSC hospital, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said during a news conference just before 1 a.m. Thursday. The number of injured people and their conditions were not known.
Charleston police chief Gregory Mullen said he will investigate the shooting as a hate crime.
The suspect was still at large early Thursday morning.
Mullen said law enforcement officials "will do everything in our power to find this individual, to lock him up, to make sure he doesn't hurt anyone else."
The shootings happened around 9 a.m. at the church at 110 Calhoun St., in the heart of the historic city.
Mayor Joe Riley called the shootings "a most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy" and said officials with the FBI, SLED and other municipalities are joining local law enforcement agents in the search for the suspect.
Mullen and Riley called the shootings a hate crime.
The suspect was described as a 21-year-old clean-shaven white male with sandy blond hair and a slender build, wearing a grey sweatshirt/hoodie and jeans with Timberland boots.
Although it is not known how many people were at the church when gunshots rang out, Wednesday is a traditional night for services and activities in churches across South Carolina.
Multliple media sources are reporting that the pastor of Emanuel AME Church is State Sen Clementa Pinckney, who was at the Hillary Clinton fundraiser earlier Wednesday evening and State House in Columbia earlier in the day.
Several impromptu prayer circles formed on the streets in the area after midnight, as law enforcement helicopters flew overheard in search of the suspect.
The church has one of the oldest and largest black congregations south of Baltimore, according to its website. Denmark Vesey, executed for attempting to organize a major slave rebellion, was one of the founders.The FBI and chaplains were on the scene, the Post and Courier reported.
Anyone with information about shooting on Calhoun Street is asked to call the Charleston Police Department at 1-843-743-7200.
More details will be reported as they become available.
Mayor Joe Riley confirmed there were fatalities.
“We’re still gathering information so it’s not the time yet for details,” he said. “I will say that this is an unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in this most historic church, an evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together.”
Riley said city police were being assisted by sheriff’s deputies, the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI.
CNN and NBC reported that presidential hopeful Jeb Bush canceled a scheduled campaign event in Charleston Thursday.
Statement by SC Gov. Nikki Haley:
“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.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott
U.S. Senator Tim Scott released the statement below regarding the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The Senator will be leaving Washington to return home to South Carolina as soon as possible.
“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.”
Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President & CEO:
“The NAACP was founded to fight against racial hatred, and we are outraged that 106 years later, we are faced today with another mass hate crime. Our heartfelt prayers and soul-deep condolences go out to the families and community of the victims at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church. The senselessly slain parishioners were in a church for Wednesday night bible study. There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture. Today, I mourn as an AME minister, as a student and teacher of scripture, as well as a member of the NAACP.
The NAACP South Carolina State Conference and Charleston Branch have been working on the ground with police and the community to bring this case to a close. We remain vigilant while the local police and FBI investigate this hate crime and bring the shooter to justice.”