Police release image of 'Charleston shooter'

2015-06-18 13:28
Surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in connection with a shooting at a Charleston church. (Charleston Police Department, AP)

Surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in connection with a shooting at a Charleston church. (Charleston Police Department, AP)

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Charleston - A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston on Wednesday night, killing nine people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime.

The shooter remained at large on Thursday morning and police released photographs from surveillance video of a suspect and a possible getaway vehicle.

Police Chief Greg Mullen said he could not offer a make and model on the dark coloured sedan because investigators were not certain about what is shown in the video.

The victims of the shooting were six females and three males, Mullen said on Thursday morning. He did not give other details about the victims.

Mullen said he believed the attack at the Emanuel AME Church was a hate crime. The suspect was described as a white man in his early 20s.

"This is a very dangerous individual," Mullen said during a 06:00 news conference.

"We want to identify this individual and arrest him before he hurts anyone else," the chief said.

Mullen said the scene at the church was chaotic when police arrived, and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away.

A married father

"We will put all effort, we will put all resources and we will put all of our energy into finding this individual who committed this crime tonight," he said.

The FBI will aid the investigation, Mullen told a news conference that was attended by FBI Special Agent in Charge David A Thomas.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P Riley called the shooting "the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy."

"The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate," Riley said. "It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. This is one hateful person."

State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press that the church's pastor, state Senator Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.

Pinckney aged 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.

"He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should," Rutherford, D-Columbia, said. "He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."

Soon after Wednesday night's shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.

Community organiser 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."

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