The white gunman who opened fire at a black bible study killing nine people, among them the pastor, had sat with the group for almost an hour before opening fire.
Police Chief Greg Mullen told reporters on Thursday morning that a huge man-hunt had ended with the capture for Dylann Roof, as federal officials said the shooting was being investigated as a hate crime. The shooter was described a man in his early 20s and officers released surveillance footage that showed the suspect and a possible getaway vehicle.
Police said the nine victims of the attack at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, launched at around, 9pm on Wednesday, were six females and three males.
Mr Mullen said Thursday morning. He did not give other details about the victims. Reports said there were three survivors from the attack and that the gunmen may have allowed them to live in order to “tell others what happened”.
Dot Scott, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, (NAACP)) told CNN that a young woman attending the event was told by the gunman: “I’m not going to shoot you because I want you to be able to tell them”.
A federal probe, which involves the department’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the US Attorney's Office in South Carolina, will be “parallel to and cooperative with the state's investigation”, the department said in a statement.
“This is a very dangerous individual,” Mr Mullen said during a 6am briefing according the Associated Press.
“We want to identify this individual and arrest him before he hurts anyone else.”
Mr Mullen said he had no reason to think the suspect had left the Charleston area, but was distributing information about him and the vehicle around the country.
Mr Mullen said the scene at the church was chaotic when police arrived, and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away.
“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 Jr called the shooting “an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind”.
“Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained,” Mr Riley said.
“We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family.”
State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told the AP that the church’s pastor, state Sen Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.
Mr 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,” Mr Rutherford said.
“He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”
In a statement, NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks condemned the shooting. “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” he said.
The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighbouring 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. Mr Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.
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