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Nine Shot Dead in ‘Hate Crime’ Massacre at Charleston Black Church; Suspect at Large

(Michael Skolnik/Twitter)

(Michael Skolnik/Twitter)

Nine people have died in a mass shooting at an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a massacre the city’s police chief is calling an apparent “hate crime.”

The Charleston Post and Courier reports at around 9:00 p.m. Wednesday night a suspect described as a clean-shaven white 21-year-old male with blond hair wearing a grey hoodie, jeans and Timberland boots entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 110 Calhoun St., one of the city’s oldest and best-known black churches, and opened fire at worshippers gathered for a prayer meeting.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the shooting “an unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in this most historic church.”

“This is inexplicable,” Riley said at an emergency press conference early Thursday morning. “It is the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible… The only reason someone could walk into church and shoot people praying is out of hate. An evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together.”

Police Chief Gregory Mullen concurred. “I do believe this was a hate crime,” he said at the press conference.

“This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience,” Mullen said. “It is senseless. It is unfathomable that someone would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives.”

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D), 41, who was pastor of the church, was among those killed, WCBD reports. Authorities have not yet identified the victims. The Post and Courier reports one person is believed to have survived the attack.

In the wake of the massacre, dozens of law enforcement officers, some carrying military-type assault weapons, swarmed the area and began searching for the suspect. As helicopters circled overhead, police asked residents to leave their homes. Police dogs were brought in to search nearby properties.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said her family is praying for the shooting victims and their families.

“Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church,” Haley said in a statement. “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.”

At Medical University Hospital, the trauma center where the shooting victims were transported, Jon Quil Lance told the Post and Courier he heard his grandmother, who worked at the church for 30 years, was among those shot.

“I’m lost, I’m lost,” Lance said. “Granny was the heart of the family. She’s a Christian, hardworking; I could call my granny for anything. I don’t have anyone else like that.”

“I don’t even know if she’s alive now,” he added, throwing his hands up. “I don’t even know if my grandmother is alive.”

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