A suspected white gunman has killed at least nine people in a “hate crime” on a historic African-American church in the U.S. city of Charleston in South Carolina state, U.S. police said early Thursday morning.
According to the Charleston Police Department, the shooting occurred at 9 p.m., local time on Wednesday (Thursday 01:00 GMT) at 110 Calhoun Street.
Local U.S. media quoted police chief Greg Mullen as saying: “I believe this was a hate crime. It will be investigated as a hate crime”.
Democrat State Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41, who was also pastor of the church, was reportedly killed along with eight others in the attack that took place during a prayer meeting.
Police are yet to officially confirm the identities of the victims.
About the suspect, the Charleston Police Department tweeted that authorities were still on the lookout for the lone suspected gunman. “Suspect in shooting on Calhoun St is a w/m [white male] approx 21 slender small build wearing a grey sweat shirt blue jeans timberland boots clean shaven,” the department tweeted.
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that came under attack is one of the religious institutions for African Americans in Charleston.
According to the official website, the history of the church dates back to the year 1816 and had gone through tough times in the past.
“In 1816, black members of Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church withdrew over disputed burial ground,” it says, adding: “In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt.”
Denmark Vesey, one of the church's founders, had organized a major slave uprising in Charleston and during that controversy the church was burned.
The website says that the worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834 when all black churches in the U.S. were outlawed.
“The wooden two-story church that was built on the present site in 1872 was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of August 31, 1886,” while “The present edifice was completed in 1891,” it says.