On Wednesday night, a shooting in a historic Black Charleston church killed nine in what police believe was a hate crime. Law enforcement announced that the suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white male, has been taken into custody.
Police Chief Gregory Mullen said at a press conference early Thursday that eight people died at the scene of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. One was pronounced dead at the hospital. Police said that Roof, who was described as "armed and dangerous," had left the scene in a black four-door sedan. "I do believe this was a hate crime," Mullen told reporters.
Roof first spent an hour praying at a bible study among the very church members he later killed, Mullen said, before fleeing into the busy downtown streets. Among those killed is the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who is also a state senator.
Citing witnesses, law enforcement officials say that Roof declared he was there to shoot Black people. "This is inexplicable," Mayor Joe Riley said at the press conference. "It is the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible ... The only reason someone could walk into church and shoot people praying is out of hate."
According to CNN, a woman who survived the shooting said that Roof let her live so she could tell people what happened. He allegedly said, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over the country."
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has a historically significant presence in Charleston.
Born of a dispute over burial grounds, African-American members of Charleston's Methodist Episcopal Church went on to form their own congregation in 1816. Today, it is the city's largest African-American church by seating space count, but has had to overcome major obstacles in the past — a major fire, an earthquake and being banned by South Carolina.
The church has come to symbolize its members' survival and perseverance in the face of racial resentment. Many African-American leaders often visited the church, including Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1822, one of its co-founders, Denmark Vesey, attempted a slave rebellion in Charleston, according to the church's website. But authorities discovered the plot and 35 people, including Vesey, were executed.
Up until the shooting, the dynamic, passionate Rev. Clementa Pinckney was at the helm of the nation's most storied Black church. He was also a Democratic state senator, first elected into the state Senate at 27, the church's website noted. Four years later, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Pinckney was a strong supporter of gun control and in his years in the House, advocated legislation to reduce violence from both civilians and police.