UPDATE: The New York Times has confirmed that at least nine are dead after a gunman opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night. Police are classifying the incident as a possible hate crime. The Emanuel A.M.E. is one of the oldest Black churches in the South, and the building is considered a historic site by the National Park Service.
Tragedy has struck at a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night.
Police are searching for a gunman who opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing at least 8 people, the Charleston Post and Courier reports. The gunman, described as white, in his early 20s and wearing a grey hoodie and Timberland boots, is still at large. The Summerville Journal-Scene says that, according to police, the suspect called dispatchers and identified himself as Elijah Graham, adding that he had planted bombs around the downtown Charleston area that would detonate in 81 minutes.
The Emanuel Church "has one of the oldest and largest Black congregations” in the South, according to the Post and Courier, and is led by Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who is also a Democratic state senator. Another local pastor, Rev. Thomas Dixon, tells NBC News that a bible study group was likely in progress at the time of the shooting. CNN reports that there are multiple fatalities and that the FBI is on the scene.
“We’re still gathering information so it’s not the time yet for details,” said Mayor Joe Riley in a statement. “I will say that this is an unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in this most historic church, an evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together.”
The Emanuel AME Church, known as "Mother Emanuel," was founded in 1816 after Black congregants from the Charleston Methodist Episcopal church withdrew over mistreatment and bigotry. In 1822, Mother Emanuel was investigated for organizing a slave revolt led by one of its founders, Denmark Vesey. During this time, the church was burned down. It was rebuilt, only to be shut down again in 1834, when Black churches were outlawed, and fnally re-opened its doors for good in 1865.
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(Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman)