What we know about the devastating Charleston hate crime
Late Wednesday night, a lone white, male gunman opened fire in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. Using security footage from outside the church, Charleston police identified the suspected shooter as Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old man who lives in the surrounding area. On Thursday morning, police reportedly captured Roof in Shelby, North Carolina, a town 200 miles away.
Though details of the shooting are still being gathered, the Charleston chief of police, Greg Mullen, has labeled the tragedy a hate crime. Victims, said Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis to CNN, “were killed because they were black.”
This is such an awful tragedy and our hearts go out to the victims, their families and survivors of the shooting. Today we mourn their loss, as we try to piece together the events of this senseless act. While information continues to be updated, here’s what we know so far about what happened, and how the world is reacting to the tragedy.
What happened: The man who police are now identifying as Roof spent an hour at a prayer meeting in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before opening fire. A survivor of the shooting reported to NBC News that the gunman had entered the church and asked for the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator. The gunman then allegedly sat next to Pinckney for an hour before opening fire, reloading five times. “I have to do it,” the gunman reportedly said to the congregation.
The victims: At the time the gunman entered the building, thirteen people were in attendance. Eight people died at the scene of the shooting, including Rev. Pinckney, and another victim died while being transported to the hospital. Three people survived, including one woman who was reportedly spared so that she could deliver a message. “Her life was spared, and [she was] told, I’m not going to kill you, I’m going to spare you, so you can tell them what happened,” said Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott after speaking with victims’ family members.
The latest on the investigation: The suspect has been taken into police custody. The state and local investigation into the incident is operating at the same time as a hate crime investigation, launched by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and the United States Attorney Office for South Carolina.
The aftermath of the shooting: After news broke of the shooting, community and church members flocked to the area to pray in the streets. NAACP leader Dot Scott set up a victims assistance center for friends and family at the Embassy Suites hotel near the church. “There were at least 50 or more people there,” Scott told CNN. “There were families of the victims, grandchildren, council members, and a bunch of people there.”
Thursday morning, the community continued to gather near the church to pray for the victims and support their families. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asked the community to pray for the victims. “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” she said.
How people around the world are showing support: Currently, on social media, the hashtag #IAmAME is trending to support the victims of the South Carolina shooting. The hashtag is collecting prayers and well wishes from people all over the world to support the victims of this terrible tragedy. Rallies and vigils are being planned all over the country today to honor the Charleston church. You can also donate to the church through their website.
What the president had to say: President Obama, speaking from the White House, expressed “deep sorrow” over the event. “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said in a live-streamed public address. “… At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other developed countries.” He then added, “There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place we seek solace.”