Update: The 21 year old suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested this morning in Shelby, North Carolina, about 250 miles from where nine people were killed in a Charleston church last night.
A massive manhunt continued early today in Charleston, S.C., for a young white man who walked into one of the oldest black churches in the country last night and opened fire, killing nine people in what authorities said was a hate crime.
The suspect was identified this morning by authorities as Dylann Storm Roof, 21. He was believed to be driving a dark colored 2000 Hyundai Elantra GS with a South Carolina license plate.
A photo of Roof on his Facebook page shows him wearing a dark jacket with two patches that are symbolic to white supremacists. The top patch is a South African apartheid era flag. The second patch appears to be the flag of the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, when the country was white ruled.
“This is a situation that is unacceptable in any society, especially in our society, our city,” Charleston’s police chief, Greg Mullen, said at a news conference today, adding that the suspect “is a very dangerous individual that should not be approached by anyone” except for the heavily armed law enforcement officers hunting him down.
“We do not want more people harmed,” Mullen said.
Eight people died at the scene, the chief said, and one victim was pronounced dead at local a hospital. Mullen said three men and six women were killed.
The city was filled with law enforcement officers and reporters from across the country even before last night’s terrorist attack. Hillary Rodham Clinton was in town for a presidential campaign event Wednesday. After the shooting, Republican hopeful Jeb Bush cancelled an event in Charleston scheduled for today.
Members of Emanuel AME Church located in downtown Charleston were having a prayer meeting when the gunman walked in around 8 P.M. Wednesday and took a seat. The police chief said the sandy haired man was in the church for about an hour before he stood up and started shooting shortly after 9 P.M.
The president of the Charleston NAACP, Dot Scott, told the paper that a woman who survived the shooting told her family that the gunman told the woman he was sparing her life so she could tell what happened. Chief Mullen would not confirm the account at the morning news conference.
The suspect was caught on a surveillance camera entering the church. Police released a photo of the suspect and the dark colored car he apparently arrived in. He is described as a clean shaven white man with a slender build, between 21 and 25 years of age, standing about 5’9. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt.
Using police dogs and helicopters, local, state and federal law enforcement officers, including agents from the FBI, searched through the night for the suspect. “We are not leaving any stone unturned,” the chief said today.
The 41-year-old pastor of the church, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who is also a South Carolina state senator, was among the dead. A senate colleague told CNN this morning that the fallen pastor was the “moral compass of the state senate.”
At the news conference today, the mayor of Charleston, Joe Riley, called the shooting “unspeakable and unfathomable.”
“We are going to put our arms around that church and church family,” Riley said.
The church shooting in Charleston is chillingly reminiscent of the massacre in Wisconsin. On a Sunday morning in August in 2012, Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old neo-Nazi and white power musician, walked into a Sikh Temple in suburban Milwaukee and opened fire with a 9 mm handgun. He killed six people before taking his own life as police moved in.
Chief Mullen said today “we are committed, we are determined” to capture the suspect. He pleaded for the public’s help in identifying the man and his whereabouts. A hotline has been established and a local, state and federal task force has been organized.
“No one in this community,” Mullen said, “will ever forget this night.”