Update as of 7:30 a.m. EDT: Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said early Thursday that there were three survivors from the shooting at a historic African-American church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, which killed three men and six women.
The suspect, a white male, reportedly spent an hour at the prayer service in the church before opening fire. Authorities are interviewing the survivors to gather more details about the attack and the suspect. The police department also released photos of the suspect and his vehicle, adding that more images would be released. Mullen said that it was unclear if the shooter, a white man, was targeting anyone in particular.
He declined to give details of the weapons reportedly used in the attack. Police also declined to release the identities of the victims saying that those would come from the local coroner.
“This is an unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and a deranged mind,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley reportedly said at a press conference, adding that authorities will “make sure [the suspect] pays the price” for this “horrible act.”
The FBI has joined the investigation into a shooting that killed nine people Wednesday night during a prayer service at a historic African-American church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting is being treated as a “hate crime.”
In a press conference early Thursday, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen released the image of the suspect and his vehicle, and added that police have surveillance footage of the suspect. Police also appealed to the local community to help locate the suspect, who officials said was “extremely dangerous.”
“He is a younger white male, we are estimating between 21 and 25 years old. He is approximately 5 feet 9 inches in height. He has on a very distinctive sweatshirt. The vehicle has a very distinctive front license plate. Hopefully these things will help us to identify this individual,” Mullen said while describing the suspect, according to the Guardian.
Eight people were reportedly killed in the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, while one died at a hospital later. The shooting attack also killed state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Democrat, authorities confirmed.
Three men and six women were killed in the attack but the identities of the other deceased people have not yet been released. Former North Carolina state Senator Malcolm Graham told local network WBTV that his sister was inside the church when the shooting occurred.
Mullen also reportedly said that authorities wanted to get out the information about the suspect as quickly as possible so that they could receive help from the public in his arrest “before he hurts someone else, either in the city or in the general area.”
Police are expected to announce a bounty for any information leading to the arrest of the suspect, according to reports.
Anyone with information about this incident call 1-800-CALL-FBI. pic.twitter.com/EidJGhNEDp
— City of Charleston (@CityCharleston) June 18, 2015
Rev. Clements Pinckney, a SC legislator is among the 9 killed in SC church. I am reminded that he helped lead our prayer vigil for Scott.
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) June 18, 2015
“The senselessly slain parishioners were in a church for Wednesday night bible study. There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of NAACP, said in a statement.
A woman who survived the attack said that the gunman told her that he was letting her live so that she could tell others about what happened, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. The woman added that the suspect had sat in the church before standing and opening fire, BBC reported, citing an NAACP official.