Photo: AP

A white man walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest Black churches in the nation, and opened fire Wednesday evening, leaving at least nine people dead.

According to a local NAACP official, the unknown gunman briefly sat in on the Bible study meeting before standing and opening fire on parishioners, shooting everyone in attendance except a woman and her granddaughter. The witness said the man let her live “so she could tell everyone else what happened.”

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the shooting at Emanuel AME “a most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.”

“An evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together,” Riley said. “To walk into a church and shoot someone, is out of pure hatred.”

At press time, police have very few leads on the gunman. They describe him as a slender white man in his early 20s, wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Timberland boots. Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen called him “extremely dangerous.”

As news spread of the shooting, clergy and community members gathered to pray, many wondering how God could let such a tragedy happen. What wasn’t in question among those present Wednesday night, however, was the shooter’s motives.

“It’s obvious that it’s race,” Tory Fields, a member of the Charleston County Ministers Conference, said. “What else could it be? You’ve got a white guy going into an African-American church. That’s choice. He chose to go into that church and harm those people.”

Emanuel AME has longstanding roots in the Charleston community. Founded in 1816, it is the oldest AME church in the South and lists Denmark Vesey—a man who planned one of the largest slave rebellions in U.S. history—as one of its founders. Known as “Mother Emanuel,” the church has been a hub for social action and justice since its inception, making the attack even more troubling to those in the community.


Rev. Pinckney; Photo: Emanuel AME

Among the victims was Emanuel AME’s pastor, South Carolina state Senator Clementa Pinckney. Pinckney, 41, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996 when he was just 23, and the state Senate at 27. He was the youngest African American person to be elected to the State Legislature. Pinckney leaves behind his wife, Jennifer, and two daughters, Eliana and Malana.

Local law enforcement officials are asking community members for any information that will help them identify and capture the gunman. During a press conference, Charleston Police Chef Gregory Mullen told reporters the city may also issue a reward. Both the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the investigation.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley shared her condolences for the victims in a brief statement released via Facebook.

“Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church,” Haley wrote. “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”

UPDATE: Police arrested Dylann Roof in Shelby, North Carolina for the Emanuel AME massacre.

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  • No words can describe the pain of the victims’ families. For centuries (including in our time), black people have always talked honesty about race. It is that some people have ignored our voices and some folks have killed many of our heroes for speaking courageously about racial issues. Now, the murderer alone did this. This incident was caused by one murderer. This white savage murderer is a stone cold racist and he is the face of what white racism is all about. What that white murderer did was terrorism. We are under attack. This is a war for our survival as a people and for our community. We have every right to use nonviolence and self defense to defend our communities. Many people (of every color and of every background) have sincerely expressed prayers and condolences to the victims’s families. We are a compassionate people.

    People should be allowed to grieve, to reflect, and to be inspired to carry onward in the fight for human liberation. The Pastor and others who were murdered had amazing character, they loved their communities, and they just wanted to express their faith in peace. We want white racism to end totally. We want not only self-determination, but economic (as working people should have economic rights. We reject social Darwinism) plus social justice. I’m certainly tired of black people being scapegoated for all of the problems in this country. Society must change. We are against bigotry and the culture of hate that some embrace. Injustice must be fought. The church has great historical significance in our history as black people. The innocent human beings who died (including those who survived this act) should be remembered and honored.

    RIP to the victims who passed.

  • D1Mind

    Negroes just don’t get it. They are the lambs to the slaughter. They are the sacrifice on the altar to the image of the dying god. Negroes are the main course at the picnic… Negroes at the BBQ asking what’s for dinner. The point being that the last 500 years have shown you that Europeans have preached and officially promoted a religion and laws hat it states plainly it is open season on non Europeans and most especially black folks. And this religion and law as embodied by the Christian Church and the Crown of Europe says point black that the spilling of black blood or non European blood is required for entry into the earthly paradise that white supremacy believes in…… The problem is that Negroes believe in that paradise too.

  • Chief Mullen what do have to say horrible crime. Indifference family has condolence
    neglect civil justice South Carolina if Whites assaulted. Longer sentence oppose Blacks always parado don’t care regarding. Murder of Odell Williams (