A manhunt is underway following a shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. At least nine people are confirmed to have been killed.
Police in the US state of South Carolina were searching for the gunman who opened fire in a church on Wednesday evening.
Authorities said their suspect was an approximately 21-year-old white male with sandy blond hair, who attacked the historically black church in downtown Charleston at around 09:00 p.m. local time. He sat with worshippers for around an hour before opening fire.
"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," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told the local Post and Courier newspaper.
Police confirmed that nine people had died in the attack.
"There were eight deceased individuals inside of the church. Two individuals were transported to (the hospital). One of them has died. At this point, we have nine victims in this hideous crime that has been committed," Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen told the press.
A suspect was arrested as police responded to a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina but was later released. The man turned out to be a photographer not connected with the shooting.
"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," Mullen continued, adding that he considered the incident a hate crime.
Following the shooting, police received a bomb threat near the scene of the incident and told people gathered in the area to move back. They later gave the all-clear that the area was free of explosives.
Local broadcaster WCSC reported that the FBI had also arrived on the scene.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1891, making it one of the oldest black congregations in the region. The church leader is Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who also serves in the state senate.
Citing a tweet by the famous activist Reverend Al Sharpton, news agency Reuters reported that Pinckney was among those who lost their lives in the attack.
A group of several men gathered near the church for an impromptu prayer service as a police copter flew overhead to comb the area.
"We pray for the families, they've got a long road ahead of them," said Reverend James Johnson, a local civil rights activist.
es/jil (AFP, Reuters)