(BCN editor update: The suspect has been arrested.)
Authorities were quick to label the “unspeakable act” a hate crime carried out by someone “with a deranged mind.”
The suspected gunman had been sitting in the church for about an hour, according to police, listening and watching a prayer service and Bible study class at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in downtown Charleston. Suddenly, just after 9pm Wednesday night — according to investigators who have interviewed survivors of the mass shooting — the young man stood up and opened fire.
When the shooting stopped and the suspect fled — reportedly in a black car with a distinctive license plate, the details of which are being kept under wraps for the moment — eight churchgoers were dead; a ninth victim died at the hospital. Among the victims of the unexplained shooting spree, according to news reports, was the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state legislator.
At last report, police were widening their search for the shooting suspect, said to be a young white male in his early twenties. The Charleston Police Department has provided the following picture from a surveillance camera. Charleston authorities were asking law enforcement agencies up and down the East Coast to be on the lookout.
The church where the shooting occurred — Emanuel AME — is one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent historically black churches. The congregation was first established about half-a-century before the Civil War, in 1816.
Authorities say that six women and three men were killed. It’s not known — or at least not publicly revealed — if any of the victims was the intended target of the killer. The Washington Post reports that at a news conference following the massacre, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley told reporters:
“The only reason someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate. The only reason. It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine.
Riley called the suspect a “horrible scoundrel” and said: “This is an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”
Western Journalism will post further details of the crime and the massive manhunt as they become available.
BCN editor’s note: This article first appeared at Western Journalism.