A gunman shot and killed nine people at a historically black church in the South Carolina city of Charleston on Wednesday in an "unfathomable" act of violence. The suspect was taken into custody on Thursday morning, according to Charleston police chief, reported by New York Times.
According to a report from Liz Kreutz, Tom Liddy and Meghan Keneally of ABC News, police in South Carolina believed that the mass shooting, which happened during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, constituted a hate crime. Charleston police chief Greg Mullen stated that eight people were found dead inside the church, while another died on the way to hospital; another person was rushed to the hospital.
"It is senseless," Mullen said in a press conference. "It is unfathomable that somebody would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives."
According to ABC News, the incident in South Carolina has become the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since 12 were killed inside the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013. Authorities have not released the identities of the victims to the public yet, and it was unclear how many survived.
"What we need right now is for everyone to come together and pray for these families," Mullen said, adding that the FBI is working with local authorities because of the shooting's "size and scope."
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told ABC News that he met with some of the families affected by the shooting, describing it as the "most heart-breaking scene I have ever witnessed."
"The only reason someone would walk into church and shoot people praying is hate," Riley said. "People were coming together praying, and an awful person coming in and shooting was the most awful and inexplicable act possible."
According to ABC News, officials are looking for a suspect described as "a 21-year-old white man with sandy blond hair and a slender build wearing a gray hoodie, blue jeans and Timberland boots." Police have deployed canines in their attempts to track him down.
Ed Payne of CNN reported that the shooting happened at the oldest AME church in the South. Local pastor Thomas Dixon described the area as "a very bad scene."
"Apparently the person just entered the church and opened fire. That part has not been fully articulated on what happened yet," Dixon said. "They are still looking for the suspect."
Payne reported that the church held a Bible study in its basement every Wednesday evening. He then elaborated on the history of the church, which was formed in 1816, burned down to the ground, and rebuilt in 1834.
"Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in 1816 when African-American members of Charleston's Methodist Episcopal Church formed their own congregation after a dispute over burial grounds," Payne wrote. "Six years later, one of the church founders was implicated in a slave revolt plot. He wasn't convicted."
ABC News reported that a group of pastors gathered in a circle down the street from the church to pray.
"We need that peace, Lord," members of the prayer circle said. "We need that peace you talk about in your word."
According to ABC News, a man within the inner circle hoped that the reasons behind the church shooting come to light.
"We're asking the community to just remain peaceful, but at the same time we want some answers as to how this happened and why," the man said.