9 people including church pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, fatally shot at historic black church in Charleston

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Police Searching For Church Shooter In Charleston, S.C.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston on Wednesday night, killing nine people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday morning.

Police Chief Greg Mullen said he believed the attack at the Emanuel AME Church was a hate crime, and police were looking for a white male in his early 20s. Mullen said the scene was chaotic when police arrived, and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away.

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Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
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9 people including church pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, fatally shot at historic black church in Charleston
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Photo via Charleston Police Department)
The Emanuel AME Church is viewed behind a police vehicle on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds up a tape in front of the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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"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 said.

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."

State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press that the church's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.

Pinckney 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.

"He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should," Rutherford, D-Columbia, said. "He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."

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Charleston shooting - tweets, politician reactions, front pages, etc.
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9 people including church pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, fatally shot at historic black church in Charleston
Senator Pinckney was my friend for over 20 years. I’m speechless, heartbroken and angry. God grant his family some peace right now.
Shocked & heartbroken by the murder of innocent people in #Charleston church. Praying for the victims & their families. #CharlestonShooting
My heart is with beautiful #Charleston this morning. Sending love and prayers to those affected by this tragic shooting.
Hard to comprehend the kind of hate that slaughters innocents in a church during bible study. Very heavy heart. #Charleston
NAACP's #Charlotte chapter announcing a prayer vigil for #Charleston today https://t.co/8amd9983NS
Prayers for #Charleston
Today's tragic front page. http://t.co/uPj4AOavhn #CharlestonShooting #PrayForCharleston #chsnews http://t.co/2qkCWHqu1M
Heartbreaking news from Charleston - my thoughts and prayers are with you all. -H
Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by the tragic events in Charleston.
Statement from South Carolina Gov. @nikkihaley on Charleston church shootings http://t.co/cdt2stkbkw
Dr. King at #EmanuelAME. #HistoricBlackChurch #CivilRightsMovement #CharlestonShooting http://t.co/Iu3ihGjQ2V
I'm praying #CharlestonShooting
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The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area. The officer has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.

In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families and decried violence at religious institutions.

"We'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another," Haley said.

Soon after Wednesday night's shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.

Community organizer Christopher Cason said he felt certain the shootings were racially motivated.

"I am very tired of people telling me that I don't have the right to be angry," Cason said. "I am very angry right now."

Even before Scott's shooting in April, Cason said he had been part of a group meeting with police and local leaders to try to shore up relations.

The Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church.

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 worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

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