On Wednesday evening, a gunman opened fire and shot multiple people at a South Carolina church, authorities said. The shooting took place at around 9 p.m. ET at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston, police said. Founded in 1816, the noteworthy church, also known as "Mother Emanuel," is one of the oldest and most prominent black churches in the country and the oldest AME church in the South. Update: Police confirmed Thursday that six women and three men were killed in the shooting. Three people also survived.
The suspect is still at large, authorities said. Police spokesman Charles Francis told reporters the suspect is a slender 21-year-old, clean-shaven white man, who was wearing a gray sweatshirt or hoodie, jeans, and Timberland boots at the time of the shooting. It is unclear what was the shooter's motive.
Officials did not confirm the number or conditions of the victims, though the Post and Courier said unconfirmed reports indicated that at least eight people were shot and suffered serious injuries. According to Fox affiliate WGHP, several of the victims had died. People living nearby have been told to evacuate.
The shooting comes as a shock to the community. Local pastor Thomas Dixon told CNN:
It's really bad. It's a bad scene. Apparently the person just entered the church and opened fire. That part has not been fully articulated on what happened yet ... they are still looking for the suspect.
According to its website, Emanuel AME Church has one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore. One of the church's founders, Denmark Vesey, was investigated for organizing a major slave uprising in 1822. The church was burned and later rebuilt despite all black churches being banned.
Police are asking anyone with information related to the shooting to call 911 dispatchers.