US: South Carolina church shooting: Nine killed in Charleston

Nine people have died in a shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston in the US state of South Carolina, officials say.

City police chief Gregory Mullen said eight of the victims were killed inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Thursday evening, while another person died shortly afterwards.

Police are now searching for a white male suspect in his 20s.

“I do believe it was a hate crime,” Mr Mullen said.

The church’s pastor, state Senator Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed, civil rights activist the Rev Al Sharpton tweeted said.

A meeting was going on at the time of the shooting at about 21:00 local time on Wednesday (01:00 GMT Thursday) at the church on 110 Calhoun Street.

In a tweet, Charleston police wrote

Speaking at a news briefing later on, Mr Mullen said: “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.

“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,” Mr Mullen said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley described the shooting as “the most unspeakable” tragedy.

The campaign of US Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush cancelled an event planned in Charleston for Thursday due to the shooting.

Helicopters were seen hovering above the area after the shooting. At one point police asked residents to move away because of reports of a bomb – but police later gave the all-clear.

A group of worshippers was seen praying near the church.

“We want some real answers now,” one of the worshippers was heard saying.

The 19th-Century Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest in the US.

Denmark Vesey – one of the Church’s founders – was a leader of a failed slave revolt in 1822.