9 Dead In S.C. Church Shooting; Suspect Hunted By Authorities
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., is known as Mother Emanuel and the oldest AME church in the American South established in 1816. Now Mother Emanuel will also be known for a horrific mass shooting. Last night, nine churchgoers were killed. The lone suspect, a young white man, is still at large. Early this morning, city officials said they are investigating this as a hate crime. Here's Charleston's mayor, Joseph Riley.
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CHARLESTON MAYOR JOSEPH RILEY: The only reason someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate - the only reason. That - it is the most dastardly act that one can possibly imagine. And we will bring that person to justice as soon as possible.
MONTAGNE: On the line with us now from Charleston is reporter Sarah McCammon of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Good morning.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And what do we know as of this moment about this terrible event?
MCCAMMON: Well, police have just released security photos taken from the Emanuel AME church that show a young white man wearing what looks like a hat and a gray sweatshirt over a white T-shirt with dark pants and boots. He was seen leaving the church in a black, four-door sedan. Police say he's still at large. They have been searching for him all night. And as you go around town, some hotels and businesses have been locked down. You see a lot of police cars, some of them with their lights flashing, blocking off parts of the city, especially here around the church.
MONTAGNE: And Sarah, take us back to last night and what happened.
MCCAMMON: Well, Renee, police say nine people have died. Eight were found dead in the church and another person was taken to the hospital and died. There are reports of at least one other injury and other survivors. This all happened around 9 o'clock during a Bible study at Emanuel AME here in downtown Charleston. Police believe there was one gunman who apparently opened fire in the church. But that's all the information that's been released so far.
MONTAGNE: And I gather we're getting a little bit more information about the victims.
MCCAMMON: Not a lot is known yet. But I can tell you that this is a very important, historic congregation, a historic part of downtown. You know, the sun is coming up now, and I can see the spire from where I am, a block or two away. It's a very impressive church with roots back to the early 19th century. It's been important in the civil rights movement. And it's one of the largest and oldest black congregations in the South. We do know that a state senator - South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney - is the pastor of this church, and several media outlets have reported that he was in the church at the time of the shooting.
MONTAGNE: What is it like right now at this moment in Charleston after what happened?
MCCAMMON: I would say the mood is very tense. Again, some businesses have locked their doors, lots of police. A small group of residents that I met a little while ago has been gathering to pray, they say basically every hour since this happened, all night long, getting together and leaning on each other for support. I talked to a few of them just before they held hands in a circle and said a prayer near the scene of where this happened. And they said they're stunned and saddened, and it's hard to make sense of why this has happened.
MONTAGNE: Yes, I would say so. Well, we'll be talking to you as the morning goes on. Thank you very much.
MCCAMMON: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's reporter Sarah McCammon in Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.