Charleston church shooting leaves nine dead

Nine people have been killed in a late-night shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church, according to CNN.

Charleston police held a press conference Thursday morning regarding the attack.

The shooting occurred at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. The victims were reportedly partaking in a Wednesday evening Bible study.

Police identified the main suspect as Dylann Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina. Roof was taken into custody on Thursday morning by North Carolina police, according to CNN. Roof was out of prison on bond for drug and trespassing charges, according to The Charleston Post and Courier.

Witnesses report that Roof was in the church for an hour before the shooting. Roof then stood up and told his victims he was there “to shoot black people,” a law enforcement official told CNN. The suspect reportedly used a handgun to shoot nine of the assembled churchgoers.

Six women and three men were killed in the attack. Three people survived, one of whom the suspect apparently gave a specific message.

“Her life was spared, and [she was] told, I’m not going to kill you, I’m going to spare you, so you can tell them what happened,” said Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott.

Among the victims was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church’s pastor, a state senator and an outspoken equal rights advocate. Rev. Pinckney was one of the spokespeople for the black community following the shooting of an unarmed man by Charleston police in April.

In a widely-circulated photo from his Facebook page, Roof appears to be wearing a jacket with a patch depicting the apartheid-era flag of South Africa, as well as the flag of Rhodesia, the former name of present-day Zimbabwe prior to gaining its independence from the United Kingdom.

The United States Department of Justice has opened a hate crime investigation into the case, according to Reuters.

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