A white gunman killed nine people at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in what the city’s police chief described as a “hate crime”, Reuters reported.
The suspect, who police described as a 21-year-old white man wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and boots, was still at large hours after the shooting on Wednesday evening.
Eight victims were found dead in the church, police chief Gregory Mullen told reporters, and a ninth person died after being taken to a hospital. One other person was wounded and receiving treatment.
“It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” Mullen said.
None of the victims were immediately identified. But the Reverend Al Sharpton, the New York-based civil rights leader, said in a tweet that the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a member of the state Senate, was among the fatalities.
The shooting occurred at the Emanuel AME Church in the historic center of downtown Charleston around 9 p.m. (0100 GMT).
After the shooting, a bomb threat was reported near the church, and people gathered in the area were told by police to move back.
The all-clear was later given after police searched the area.
The church has one of the largest and oldest black congregations in the South, according to its website.
It has its roots in the early 19th century, and the current building was built in 1891. It is considered a historically significant building, the National Park Service said.
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