9 fatally shot at Charleston, South Carolina church in possible hate crime

CHARLESTON, S.C. (KABC) -- Nine people were killed in a shooting during a prayer meeting inside Emanuel AME church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night, Mayor Joseph P. Riley has confirmed.

Police said that eight people were found dead inside the church. Two other people were rushed to the hospital and one died.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford says the church's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.

Authorities are still searching for the shooter, who's described as a white male in his early 20s.

The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, according to Charleston police Chief Gregory Mullen.

He said there were survivors, but would not say how many, or how many were inside at the time of the shooting.

The "extremely dangerous" gunman remains at large. Police helicopters with searchlights were circling overhead in the area, while several pastors could be seen kneeling and praying across the street.

"We need that peace, Lord," members of the prayer circle were heard saying. "We need that peace you talk about in your word."

"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."

Police said they were looking for 21-year-old white man with a slender build wearing a gray hoodie, blue jeans and Timberland boots.

The campaign of GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sent out an email saying that due to the shooting, the candidate had canceled an event planned in the city Thursday.

The Emanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church. It's the oldest of its kind in the South, according to their website and is listed among the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places.

One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshiped underground until after the Civil War.

The shooting happened the day before the eighth anniversary of a fire at a furniture store that killed nine Charleston firefighters.

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.
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