By BosNewsLife Americas Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and local reporters
CHARLESTON, USA (BosNewsLife)– American security forces searched Thursday, June 18, for a white man who opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic evangelical black church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people, including the pastor. The overnight shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church was described as a hate crime by authorities.
The names of all victims were not yet officially announced, but local media reported that Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who is also a Democratic Party legislator in the South Carolina state’s senate, and a family member were among those killed.
Christians could be seen praying and comforting each other near the church building where eight people died on the scene. A ninth person later perished in hospital, reports said.
Police initially ordered residents to remain outside the area around the church because of a bomb threat following the shooting, but authorities later said no explosives were found. The suspected shooter was described as a white, clean-shaven, slim 21-year-old. Shortly after the shooting police could be seen detaining a similar looking man, but police later claimed they were still searching for the suspect.
CHAOTIC SCENE REPORTED
Police Chief Greg Mullen explained that the scene was chaotic when police arrived, and that officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away. He was quick to call the shooting a crime of hatred.
However, “We will put all effort, we will put all resources and we will put all of our energy into finding this individual who committed this crime tonight,” he told reporters.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called the shooting “the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.”
“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” Riley said. “It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. … This is one hateful person.”
Local Pastor Thomas Dixon said that it is horrible that someone apparently simply walked into the church and opened fire.
ELECTION RALLY CANCELLED
Jeb Bush, the Republican hopeful for president, cancelled an election rally following the church shooting.
The church is one of the nation’s oldest black churches, according to experts. The Gothic Revival church was built in 1891 and is considered a historically significant building, according to the National Park Service.
The congregation was formed by black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church who broke away “over disputed burial ground,” said the National Park Service. In 1822, one of the church’s co-founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to foment a slave rebellion in Charleston, the church’s website said. The plot was foiled by the authorities and 35 people were executed, including Vesey.
Governor Nikki Haley said in a statement that she and her family were praying for the victims.
The latest incident follows several church shootings in recent years and comes amid an ongoing debate in the country and beyond over the many firearms available in the United States.
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