Another tragedy has struck the African American community after a historic Black church in South Carolina was shot up by a deranged gunman who is still on the loose.
How much more needs to happen in order for our government and society to wake up and truly understand how much #BlackLivesMatter and #GunControl needs to happen sooner rather than later?!
Police widened the search Thursday for a white gunman who opened fire and killed nine people during a prayer service at a historic African American church here, in one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the United States in recent memory.
At least one other person was injured in the Wednesday night assault, which began about an hour after the assailant entered the church and observed the service, authorities said.
“We believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it,” said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen.
Officers in fatigues, some with dogs, were searching “near and far” for the gunman, described as a clean-shaven white male in his early 20s with sandy blond hair and a slight build. Police said he was wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots. He is believed to be the only shooter.
Mullen noted at a 7 a.m. media briefing that authorities do not know where gunman is.
“This person is dangerous,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley (D). “We need every tip we can get to bring this person into custody as soon as possible, and of course will make sure that he pays the price for this horrible act.”
At a nearby Embassy Suites, which was serving as an informal headquarters for church members, people began sobbing and screaming as they learned details about what had happened. “It was a heartbreaking scene I have never witnessed in my life before,” said Riley, the city’s longtime mayor.
Six females and three males were killed, police said.
Though authorities did not release the names of the victims, the church’s pastor, Clementa Pinckney, who is also a South Carolina state senator, was missing after the shooting, and some members of the congregation feared the worst. The pastor’s cousin confirmed Pinckney’s death in an interview with CNN on Thursday.
“It’s a huge, huge loss; a sad, sad thing that has happened,” said the cousin, Kent Williams. In another CNN interview, Dot Scott, the president of the NAACP’s Charleston chapter, also said that Pinckney was among the dead.
Police said the victims were gathered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also known as “Mother Emanuel,” for a prayer meeting when the shooting occurred. The congregation, established in 1816, is one of the oldest African American churches in the United States.
“This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in historic Emanuel AME church, the mother church of the AME churches,” said Riley, the mayor. “People in prayer Wednesday evening, a ritual coming together, praying and worshiping God. To have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable. Obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible.”
“The only reason someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” Riley continued. “The only reason. It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine.”
At a subsequent news conference, Riley called the shooter a “horrible scoundrel” and said: “This is an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”
Police said the shooting occurred at about 9 p.m. at the historic church, which is located between Henrietta and Calhoun streets near Marion Square in downtown Charleston. Emergency dispatchers received a call at about 9:05 p.m., police said, and units were immediately dispatched to the church.
When officers arrived, they determined that eight people had been killed inside the church, Mullen said. A ninth person was taken to a nearby hospital, where that person died, the police chief said. Police initially said a total of two people had been taken to the hospital, but clarified later that there was only one.
The Rev. Norvel Goff, a presiding elder for the African Methodist Episcopal Church who was interviewed near the scene, said the gunman “walked in, from my understanding, not so much as a participant, but as a brief observer who then stood up and then started shooting.”
Mullen told reporters that the person stayed with the group in the church for about an hour before opening fire.
After the shooting, helicopters swarmed overhead and heavily armed police wearing bulletproof vests fanned out across the city to search for the gunman.
Mullen, the Charleston police chief, said authorities are investigating Wednesday’s incident as a hate crime. Local law authorities have joined forces with the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to track down leads. “We are not leaving any stone unturned,” Mullen said.
Hours after the massacre, Riley called for bolstered gun-control laws, saying: “I personally believe there are far too many guns out there, and access to guns, it’s far too easy. Our society has not been able to deal with that yet.”