9 people killed in a church shooting in South Carolina

Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting.

Nine people have been killed in a church shooting in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

The FBI and local police are investigating the shooting as a hate crime, according to Charleston law enforcement officials.

Police were swarming Henrietta and Calhoun streets off Marion Square in downtown Charleston around 9pm local time Wednesday, after the shooting was reported at 110 Calhoun Street — the site of Emanuel AME Church.

Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis says they are looking for a “white male in a grey sweatshirt/hoodie and jeans.” The suspect is believed to be in his early 20s.

WCSC-TV reports the shooting happened during a meeting and a Bible study service taking place at the church.

The station interviewed a photographer who was briefly detained amid the chaos immediately following the shooting. Austin Rich told WCSC-TV police informed him he fit the description of the suspect.

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, South Carolina, shooting
A view of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Google Maps

He was questioned and later released. Rich appeared to take it in stride, saying “I have an enormous amount of respect for the officers,” who continue to search for the shooter.

It’s unclear what prompted the shooting Wednesday night, but police have been out in full force to track down the suspect.

A bomb threat was also reported in the area, according to WBTV-TV, but has since been resolved.

The Associated Press says helicopters have been circling overhead while pastors and supporters were praying near the crime scene.

2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has reportedly canceled a Thursday campaign event that was scheduled in Charleston in light of the shooting, reports ABC News.

The site of the shooting, Emanuel AME Church, boasts one of the oldest and largest black congregations south of Baltimore, according to the church’s website, and dates back to the late 1700s.

Charleston shooting

The church was the target of an investigation in 1822 for its alleged involvement with a slave revolt, and was burned amid the controversy. The structure was rebuilt, but services stopped when all black churches were outlawed in 1834. The church was formally reorganized in 1865.

Here’s a look at how the scene is playing out on social media: