Shooting at Historic Black Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine People Dead

June 17, 2015: Police and ambulances responded to the scene of a shooting in Charleston, S.C. (Photo courtesy WCSC)

UPDATE: Multiple people were shot, some fatally Wednesday at a historic black church in the heart of South Carolina's second-largest city and police said the gunman was still at large.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told the Post and Courier newspaper that there were fatalities in the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church downtown.

"We’re still gathering information so it’s not the time yet for details," Riley told the paper. "I will say that this is an unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in this most historic church, an evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together."

Riley added that local police were being assisted by Charleston County sheriff's deputies, the State Law Enforcement Division, and the FBI.

Authorities said the shooting took place at approximately 9 p.m. local time. There was no immediate information on the exact number of fatalities, though the police said no victims had been identified.

The Post and Courier reported that a chaplain was at the scene of the shooting, while multiple police cars and ambulances responded.

Police described the suspect as a white man of approximately 21 years of age with a small or slender build. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt with blue jeans and Timberland boots, and was clean shaven.

Approximately two hours after the shooting, a man matching the suspect's description was briefly detained near the shooting scene, but was later let go by police. The man, identified as 21-year-old David Corrie, told the Post and Courier he was walking out of a Shell gas station's convenience store when police forced him to get down on the ground and handcuffed him.

The pastor of the church is Clementa Pinckney, a member of the South Carolina state Senate. It was not immediately clear if he was in the church at the time of the shooting.

Antjuan Seawright, a spokesman for state Senate Democrats, told the Associated Press he hadn't heard from Pinkney or his family.

  "We are praying," Seawright said.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene said police helicopters with searchlights are circling overhead in the area, and a group of pastors are  kneeling and praying across the street. Police moved members of the news media back away from the site due to what they called an "imminent" threat.

They did not release any details.

The campaign of GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sent out an email saying that due to the shooting, the candidate had canceled an event planned in the city Thursday. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement calling the shooting a "senseless tragedy."

"While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we'll never understand what motivated anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another," the statement said. "Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers."

The church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church. One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

Anyone with information on the gunman's whereabouts is asked to contact Charleston Police dispatch at 843-743-7200.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(Photo: WPEC CBS12)

Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Police are investigating a shooting downtown that may have resulted in multiple fatalities, and authorities say a bomb threat has been called in at the scene.

Police were asking media and bystanders to move in the wake of the threat, WCSC was reporting.

Charleston Mayor Joe RIley confirmed to the Charleston Post and Courier that there had been fatalities. 

He was expected to speak at a press conference in the early midnight hours of Thursday morning.

The news organization indicated that nine people had been shot, but police were only saying they had no information on victims. South Carolina Rep. Peter McCoy tweeted that he heard nine people were confirmed dead.

Police said the shooting took place at an address that corresponds with that of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The house of worship is the oldest AME church in the South and is led by South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Democrat. The church has one of the oldest and largest black congregations south of Baltimore, according to its website. Denmark Vesey, executed for attempting to organize a major slave rebellion, was one of the founders.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church sits at 110 Calhoun St. in Charleston, S.C. (Photo: Facebook)

Pinckney was believed to be inside during the shootin, his legislative colleague, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, told the Post and Courier.

The shooting took place at about 9 p.m. ET, Charleston police said via Twitter. The gunman is still on the loose, police told the Post and Courier.

The suspect is a clean-shaven white male about 21-years-old and is wearing a gray sweatshirt or hoodie, blue jeans and Timberland boots, officials said.

The FBI and chaplains were on the scene, Post and Courier reporter Melissa Boughton tweeted.

An emergency medical worker told people on the street to "drive far away or to go indoors," 
Boughton tweeted at about 9:45 p.m. EDT.

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