Update (11:44 AM EST):
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Law enforcement announced late Thursday morning that the man suspected of killing nine people at church meeting in Charleston, South Carolina is now in police custody after being apprehended in North Carolina.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer:
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.
Witness statements reportedy taken from the scene of the crime have indicated the shooter made it clear the murders in Charleston were racially motivated by declaring he went to the prayer meeting "to shoot black people" just before he opened fire.
Update (10:14 AM EST):
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified the shooting suspect as Dylann Roof, 21, of the Columbia, South Carolina area. He is considered armed and dangerous.
The Post and Courier reports:
Roof has been arrested twice in South Carolina as an adult, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. He was jailed March 1 in Lexington County on a drug charge and again on April 26 on a trespassing charge.
The mass shooting at historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night that left nine people dead is being investigated as a hate crime, officials said on Thursday.
According to police, the assault took place around 9 pm when a still unidentified white gunman—who as of this writing remains at large—entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire on a prayer meeting that was underway.
As the Charleston Post & Courier, which is offering live updates from the scene, reports:
A white gunman killed nine people during a prayer meeting at one of Charleston’s oldest and best-known black churches Wednesday night in one of the worst mass shootings in South Carolina history.
Heavily armed law enforcement officers scoured the area into the morning for the man responsible for the carnage inside Emanuel AME Church at 110 Calhoun St. At least one person was said to have survived the rampage.
Police revealed no motive for the 9 p.m. attack, which was reportedly carried out by a young white man. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said, "I do believe this was a hate crime."
Mayor Joe Riley called the shooting "a most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy."
"An evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together," he said.
Police have not released the identities of those killed, but reportedly among the dead is Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor who also serves as a state senator in the South Carolina legislature. Reports indicate that 8 victims died at the scene and one died later at a local hospital.
From the Associated Press:
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Local news television WCSC-TV reports that family members of Rev. Pinckney said the gunman sat through an entire bible study before he began shooting church members. He then fled the scene.
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Authorities have requested help in locating the perpetrator of the crime and released a statement describing him as "a white male, 21 to 25 years old, 5 foot 9 inches tall and a slender build. He's clean shaven with sandy blond hair that is shaped in a bowl cut, and was last seen wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots." Police also released this photo of the person they believe is the shooter:
The Associated Press adds:
The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area. The officer has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.
In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families and decried violence at religious institutions.
"We'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another," Haley said.
Soon after Wednesday night's shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.
Community organizer Christopher Cason said he felt certain the shootings were racially motivated.
"I am very tired of people telling me that I don't have the right to be angry," Cason said. "I am very angry right now."