Police are saying alleged gunman Dylann Roof caused the shooting death of the pastor and eight others at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina late Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters that a suspect was taken into custody, hours after the shooting.
The man observed a prayer meeting at the church for almost an hour before the shooting began, sources say. Thirteen people were participating in the meeting when the man shot pastor Clementa Pinckney, who is also a South Carolina state senator, and eight others. One woman who survived told police that “the gunman said he was letting her live so that she could tell people what happened.”
The church is the oldest AME church in the South, a presence in Charleston since 1816. It is listed among the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
“The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said. Designating the shooting a “hate crime” allows for federal prosecution.
“People in prayer Wednesday evening. A ritual, a coming together, praying, worshiping God. An awful person to come in and shoot them is inexplicable,” Riley said.
In a statement, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., Cornell William Brooks, said, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”