Charleston Shooter Sat With Churchgoers for an Hour
Church gunman told woman she could live to tell others of hate crime, police say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2015 1:54 AM CDT
Updated Jun 18, 2015 6:52 AM CDT
Lisa Doctor joins a prayer circle down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early today following a shooting last night in Charleston, SC.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – "This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience," Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen told reporters after a mass shooting at a historic black church left nine people dead. "I do believe this was a hate crime," he says of the attack, which is believed to have been carried out by a young white man who is still at large. The president of the Charleston NAACP tells the Post and Courier that a survivor says the gunman briefly sat down in the Emanuel AME Church before opening fire on a prayer meeting, but at a news conference this morning, Mullen said the shooter stuck around for almost an hour before the shooting began, the AP reports. Mullen also distributed a surveillance video of a possible suspect and vehicle, and added that the victims were six females and three males. The NAACP chief says the gunman told one woman he was letting her live so she could tell others what happened.

"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 told reporters. "I can assure you that we're going to do everything in our power to find this individual, to lock him up and to make sure he doesn't hurt anyone else." Mayor Joe Riley called the suspect "one hateful person," describing the shooting as "the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine." In other developments:

  • Helicopters are circling Charleston in the search for the suspect, who's described as a white male, around 21 years old, slender, clean-shaven, and wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Timberland boots, the Guardian reports. Police say he is "obviously extremely dangerous."
  • State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor, was in the church at the time of the attack, and State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford tells the AP that the lawmaker was among those killed. The 41-year-old "never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should," Rutherford says. "He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."
  • The Post and Courier has more on the history of the church, which it calls the "spiritual home to one of the oldest and largest black congregations south of Baltimore," and which many in the city call "Mother Emanuel." Its roots go back to 1816, and it was burned after one of its founders tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. Members went underground until after the Civil War, when the church adopted the name "Emanuel."
  • Jeb Bush has canceled a Charleston campaign appearance scheduled for today, the New York Times reports. A campaign aide for Hillary Clinton says she was in the city yesterday but left before the shooting.