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Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old suspect in the killing of nine people in an historic black church in downtown Charleston, was taken into custody Thursday in Shelby, N.C., several news outlets reported, citing an unidentified police source.
Surveillance footage taken at Emanuel AME Episcopal Church showed the shooter spent nearly an hour with his would-be victims praying inside the sanctuary before shooting them dead. The cameras recorded him entering the church at 8:16 p.m. The shooting was reported to the authorities at 9:05 p.m.
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Six women and three men died, eight of them at the church and one at a hospital, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said Thursday morning. He corrected his own report from earlier that two people were sent to the trauma center at Medical University of South Carolina.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday that it had opened a formal investigation into the shooting as a hate crime.
Three people survived the shooting. Mullen declined to give their names or ages, or to identify the victims. State lawmakers said one of their colleagues, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Charleston Democrat and the church’s pastor, was among the dead.
The city did not place any neighborhoods on lockdown or cancel school Thursday.
Shaken city leaders called the mass shooting an “unfathomable” hate crime.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is a hate crime,” Mullen said, declining to elaborate other than to say “some information” from the investigation led him to that conclusion. His department is working with local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI.
The church, known as “Mother Emanuel,” was built in 1891, making it the oldest AME church in the South. It’s home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore.
“Right now we don’t know if anyone was targeted other than the church itself,” Mullen said.
Rev. Pinckney was a tall man with a booming voice that commanded attention but a gentle demeanor, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. said.
“If you wanted to make a movie of a distinguished pastor, you would have cast him,” said Riley, a Democrat.
He called the shooting an “unspeakable, heartbreaking tragedy.”
“It’s a prayer service and a bible service, and they’re speaking about the Holy Scriptures and praying, and then someone sitting there [is] contemplating the act of murder,” he said. “I personally believe there are far too many guns out there. And access to guns is far too easy. Our society has not been able to deal with that yet.”
The hours immediately following the shooting were “chaotic,” the police chief said, as police dogs tried to track the suspect and helicopters with spotlights whirred over downtown. A bomb threat near the church resulted in further confusion. Police said later they weren’t sure if the threat was connected to the shooting.
At one point, police detained a young man dressed like the suspect. Authorities declined to explain the arrest to reporters, but on Facebook, a young photographer later identified himself as the detained man. He said he was treated respectfully and questioned before police let him go.
Police cordoned off several blocks of Charleston’s historic district, including the Courtyard Marriott where the Orlando City pro soccer team spent the night after defeating the Charleston Battery in a U.S. Open Cup match. People were asked to stay indoors.
National political reporters in town to cover campaign events descended on the crime scene. Republican Jeb Bush canceled a town hall-style meeting planned for Thursday morning at the Charleston Maritime Center, about half a mile from the church.
“Governor Bush’s thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by this tragedy,” spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said in a statement. Thursday’s news conference was held where Bush’s event would have taken place, and some of his local staff showed up to offer the city the second-floor space the campaign had leased.
Democrat Hillary Clinton had held an event earlier Wednesday in nearby North Charleston, site of a deadly police shooting in April.
“Heartbreaking news from Charleston — my thoughts and prayers are with you all,” Clinton said on Twitter early Thursday.
Members of the greater Charleston area’s African-American religious community gathered near the church in a show of solidarity. A prayer circle gathered shortly after midnight about three blocks from the site of the shooting, where a despairing pastor looked up angrily at the dark skies.
“Where do we go from here?” asked the Rev. Thomas Ravenell of Empowerment Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, who led the prayer. “How do I look at heaven when hell is always on my back?”