Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston. Photograph: Alamy
At least nine people have been killed after a gunman opened fire at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in what police have described as a “hate crime”.
Police released a image of the gunman and a car from video at a press conference on Thursday. The suspect, who is still on the loose, has been described as a clean-shaved, white male aged approximately 21, with a small, slender build, wearing a grey sweatshirt with jeans and boots.
G unfire erupted on Wednesday inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, whose pastor Clementa Pinckney, a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate, was named as one of the dead.
Eight of the victims were killed in the church. Another died on the way to hospital. Charleston police chief Greg Mullen said there were survivors, but declined to give more details.
The gunman had yet to be caught hours after the attack and was considered extremely dangerous, he said.
Mullen said he believed the shooting was “a hate crime”. He said: This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience ... It is senseless, unfathomable. We are going to do everything in our power to find this individual, to lock him [the gunman] up, to make sure he does not hurt anyone else.
Clementa Pinckney,(pictured above ) a high-flying Democrat state senator who campaigned for police to wear body cameras, was one of those killed in the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday.
he 41-year-old was a pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church where a gunman, believed to be white, opened fire in what officials are treating as a hate crime.
Pinckney won election to the South Carolina senate in 2000 at the age of 27, becoming the youngest African American to do so. He had previously been elected to the state’s House of Representatives at 23. Reports said he met Hillary Clinton earlier on Wednesday at a fundraising event in Charleston.
In April Pinckney helped lead a prayer vigil for Walter Scott, a black South Carolina man who was shot dead by a police officer as he tried to run away. The veteran civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton, who was also involved in the vigil, tweeted on Wednesday night:
Pinckney campaigned for legislation to require police officers to wear body cameras while working. He said: “Body cameras help to record what happens. It may not be the golden ticket, the golden egg, the end-all-fix-all, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop.”
The Rev Joseph Darby, the presiding elder at Beaufort AME Church, described Pinckney as “an advocate for the people”. He told MSNBC: “He was a very caring and competent pastor, and he was a very brave man. Brave men sometimes die difficult deaths.”
Pastor Thomas Dixon, who has been working with a local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, had met Pinckney in the wake of the April death of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man whose shooting by a white North Charleston police officer was caught on video. He said Pinkney was highly respected in the community as both a political and religious leader.
In the wake of the latest shooting, Dixon said he was “disheartened but not surprised”.
The Emanuel church website said Pinckney began preaching at 13 and was first appointed as a pastor at 18. He had a degree in business administration, and master’s degrees in public administration and divinity.