The Charleston Police Department is searching for a white male suspect after the "hate crime" shooting of nine people at a South Carolina church.
Police are looking for a 21-year-old white male described as slim-built, clean-shaven, with sandy hair, wearing a grey hoodie, blue jeans and Timberland-style boots following the killings at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Eight of the victims are believed to have died inside the building, while another died shortly afterwards.
They have not yet been identified, but there are reports that South Carolina Senator and church pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was inside the church at the time of the shooting, may be among the dead.
Police still searching for suspect in Calhoun St shooting.; Charleston P.D. (@CharlestonPD) June 18, 2015
City police chief Gregory Mullen told reporters the incident was being treated as a "hate crime".
He also confirmed that the shooting was reported hours after a bomb threat was called into the church.
“He is, obviously, extremely dangerous," Mr Mullen said.
Suspect in shooting on Calhoun St is a w/m approx 21 slender small build wearing a grey sweat shirt blue jeans timberland boots clean shaven; Charleston P.D. (@CharlestonPD) June 18, 2015
The shooting took place at around 9pm, while a Bible study meeting was taking place inside the church, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. A white man carrying a camera and recording device was briefly detained at a gas station close to the scene but later released, and police are still searching for the gunman.
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley said: "This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.
“People in prayer, coming together, praying and worshipping God, to have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable, obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible.”
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said her family was praying “for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy... 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,” she said.
In pictures: Charleston vigil
In pictures: Charleston vigil
1/6 Charleston vigil
Sunlight shines through a window and onto some of the thousands of people gathered for a city-sponsored prayer vigil for the nine victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting
2/6 Charleston vigil
People attend a vigil at TD Arena for victims of the Charleston church shooting
3/6 Charleston vigil
A view of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina
4/6 Charleston vigil
People attend a prayer vigil at the TD Aren
5/6 Charleston vigil
Family members of the nine victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting sit on the first five rows during a prayer vigil at the College of Charleston TD Arena
6/6 Charleston vigil
NBA Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (C) joins thousands of people for a prayer vigil for the nine victims
The church is the oldest and largest black church in the South. Denmark Vesey, the church’s founder, was executed for organising a major slave rebellion in 1822.Reuse content