The suspect accused of fatally shooting nine people at Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night has been arrested.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen announced 21-year-old Dylann Roof was taken into custody just after 11 a.m. following a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina. The 21-year-old from Lexington, South Carolina was wanted for the murder of nine people at Emanuel AME Church.
Authorities identified Roof as the shooting suspect Thursday morning. He was described as a white male, 21 years old, slender/small build, gray sweat shirt, blue jeans and clean shaven, and believed to be driving a dark in color Hyundai Elantra with vehicle tag LGF330.
Public records show Roof was most recently arrested in March in Lexington County on drug charges.
According to police, nine people were killed after shots were fired during a prayer meeting inside Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street around 9:05 p.m. Chief Mullen said officers arrived to find eight people dead inside the church. A ninth victim died later at a nearby hospital.
Three people survived the attack, Mullen said.
Elder James Johnson, President of the Charleston Chapter of the National Action News, said SC Senator Clementa C. Pinckney was one of the nine shot and killed inside the church. Pinckney, 41, served as pastor for Emanuel AME in addition to his role as a state senator for District 45.
Mullen said Roof sat through an hour-long bible study before he began shooting church members. He then fled the scene.
Charleston Police released surveillance photos of the suspect during a 6 a.m. news conference. He was later identified by authorities shortly after 10 a.m.
Mullen said the shooting occurred during a prayer meeting at the church. Authorities have not yet released the identities of the nine victims, but did say three males and six females were killed.
"We woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken and so we are grieving and we have some pain we have to go through," said Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday. "Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe and that's not something we ever thought we would deal with. Having said that we are a strong and faithful state. We love our state, we love our country and most of all we love each other."
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The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, Mullen said.
"This is clearly a tragedy in the City of Charleston," Mullen said."We are all praying and our hearts go out to the victims and their families as well as this entire community...When officers arrived they found a number of victims inside and we had also individuals who were transported to the MUSC emergency trauma center. As the investigation continued we were able to determine that there were eight deceased individuals inside of the church."
According to Mullen, one victim was transported to MUSC where they later died.
"We have investigators that are out tracking, leads are coming in and we will continue to do that until we find this individual who carried out this crime tonight and bring him to justice," Mullen said. "This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience. It is senseless, 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."
"This is a most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy," said Mayor Joe Riley. "People in prayer on Wednesday evening. A ritual of coming together, praying and worshiping God, and to have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable. Obviously, the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible."
SLIDESHOW: Shooting reported at downtown Charleston church
"The only reason someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate, the only reason," Riley said. "It is the most dastardly act that one can possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice as soon as possible."
Mullen and Riley will hold a second media briefing at 7 a.m. at the Charleston Maritime Center, located at 10 Wharfside Dr.
A helicopter assisted law enforcement on the scene. Witnesses reported a big police presence was seen at the Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street. The FBI and the Chaplain service are also on the scene.
"We have all the resources that are available to us, not only locally but from the state as well as federal agencies," Mullen said. "We have resources that are being flown in right now from Washington, D.C. that will help us not only track leads but also work this investigation. And I can say that we will put all effort, we will put all resources and all of our energy in finding the individual who committed this crime tonight."
"The message to the community is that this is an opportunity for us all to unite because of a significant tragedy that has occurred," Mullen said.
Mullen said he can understand the anger and upset throughout the community, but he urged calm and unity to pray for the families and help police track down the person responsible.
"And what we need is for the community to look at this and say, 'We have had enough of this violence, and if we stand up together, we can stop this violence.' And that's what we need the community to do," he said.
Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, released a statement echoing those sentiments.
Brooks said while he is outraged over the hate crime, the NAACP is sending their prayers and condolences to the victims and their families.
Calhoun Street between Meeting Street and Anson Street, as well as Anson Street between Calhoun Street and George Street remain closed while police continue to investigate.
Anyone with information about the shooting can call the Charleston Police tip line at (843) 529-3750.
Man cleared following arrest on scene; Bomb threat called in
A man matching the suspect's description who was initially arrested at the scene has been released.
The man, identified as local photographer Austin Rich, says he was released after being questioned by police officers.
Around 11:30 p.m., police began pushing media and bystanders across Meeting Street after officers say a bomb threat was reported in the area of the crime scene. Officials announced Thursday at 12:45 a.m. the bomb threat had been called off.
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