Shooter kills 9 at historic black church in domestic terrorist attack


Late on Wednesday evening a Dylann Roof, a 21 year old white gunman, fatally shot nine black people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina before fleeing the scene and evading local police. The FBI and local authorities quickly launched a joint investigation of the scene and began a widespread manhunt for Roof.

On Thursday Roof was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina, nearly 245 miles away from the scene of the shooting.

Roof was in the church for almost an hour before the shooting, attending a prayer meeting with his would-be victims, according Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen. The shooting, Mullen said, is being investigated as a hate crime.

“Acts like this one have no place in our country,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said after announcing that the Justice Department was also looking into the shooting as a hate crime. “They have no place in a civilized society.”

There is a long, terrible history of white violence against black churches in the south. During the Civil Rights era, white groups targeted black places of worship, which also served as meeting places for civil rights leaders. The most infamous of those attacks was the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four little girls died in that attack, making Wednesday’s attack more than twice as deadly.

“It is senseless. It is unfathomable that somebody would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” Mayor Joe Riley said at a late night press conference. “The only reason someone would walk into church and shoot people praying is hate.”

Six of the victims were women and three were men 6 were women and 3 were men. Though police were initially unable to confirm the identities of the victims, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said that Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and pastor of the congregation, was among the dead, according to AP. Months ago, Pinckney was a co-sponsor to the nation’s first statewide police body camera law.

In the hours following the shooting, more members of the Charleston community began to come forward, naming their loved ones who were murdered. Allen University, the local HBCU that Pinckney graduated from, issued a press release confirming the identity of another victim, Tywanza Sanders, a recent Allen graduate.

“He was a quiet, well-known student who was committed to his education. He presented a warm and helpful spirit as he interacted with his colleagues,”
wrote Allen University President Lady June Cole. “Mr. Sanders was participating in the Bible Study session at Mother Emanuel church at the time of the shooting.”

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, another reverend at Emanuel , was soon to be confirmed as another victim by her son via Twitter and the high school where she also worked as a track coach.

Both Myra Thompson and Ethel Lee Lance were identified by their daughters as two of the female victims. According to the Post and Courier, Lance worked at the church for over 30 years.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is purportedly the oldest black Methodist Episcopal congregation south of Baltimore. The church describes itself as “one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland.” The National Park Service lists it as a national historic place, with its roots  stemming “from a religious group of free blacks and slaves organized in 1791.”

Down the street from the crime, worshippers were praying for peace in a circle, ABC News reported. “We need that peace, Lord,” they were saying. “We need that peace you talk about in your word.”

At a Thursday morning press conference Mayor Joe Riley voiced strong support for the community. “We’re going to put up arms around that church and that church family,” he said.

In April, the community of North Charleston made international headlines after a white police officer was captured on camera shooting a black man in the back as he tried to run away from the officer following a routine traffic stop. Earlier this month, the officer was indicted by a grand jury on murder charges stemming from that case.

Jeb Bush, who announced his presidential campaign only yesterday, has already cancelled his previously scheduled Charleston appearance as a result of the shooting. Currently, Charleston police are scouring the area trying to find the man who shot churchgoers. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has called 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,” Haley said in a public statement. “Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”

This story has been updated to reflect breaking developments.

Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.

Charles reports on comics, culture, and general geekery.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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