9 people killed in S. Carolina church shooting, police investigating ‘hate crime’

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Nine people were gunned down by an armed white man in a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. At least one man is being treated at the hospital. A photo of the suspect and his vehicle is being circulated.

"The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate," the Mayor told the AP.

"It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. ... This is one hateful person."

The possibility of the shooting being a hate crime is being investigated.

“It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” police chief Gregory Mullen told Reuters.

"I do believe it was a hate crime," Mullen added.

The shootings took place after a bomb threat was received at the church, before an all-clear was announced.

Officers initially confirmed finding eight bodies inside the church, with two people wounded, one of whom later died at the hospital. The other is being treated for injuries.

The pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney is said to be among the killed, Rev. Al Sharpton has tweeted.

Chief Mullen would not say how many survivors there were, or how many people were inside the building when the assailant entered.

According to the address handed out by police, the shooting took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It occurred around 9 pm.

Police are still searching fort the suspected shooter - a clean-shaven white male about 21 years of age. He is reportedly wearing a grey sweatshirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots. A photo of the suspect has been released.

Some 30 emergency responders are at the scene, according to NBC News2. The FBI is also at the scene, according to local reporters.

"It's really bad. It's a very bad scene," local pastor Thomas Dixon said to CNN.

"Apparently the person just entered the church and opened fire. That part has not been fully articulated on what happened yet."

The church is led by South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D). According to the Post and Courier, he was at the church when the shooting took place. On its website, the church states it is the oldest AME church in the south, with "one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was also in Charleston on Wednesday, according to NBC, but she left before the shooting occurred.

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush was to be present at events in the area on Thursday, but cancelled, following the shooting.