A white man in Charleston, South Carolina, has reportedly opened fire and killed at least nine people at a black church.
Charleston Police are investigating the matter at this time, and a manhunt is underway as authorities are searching for the gunman.
“I do believe this is a hate crime,” police chief Greg Mullen said at a briefing according to the Washington Post.
“Armed police wearing bullet-proof vests swarmed the scene to search for the suspect. Police told local reporters to back away, citing a bomb threat, the Post and Courier reported.
Emanuel AME Church has been a landmark in Charleston for more than 150 years,” the Washington Post wrote. “Often called, ‘Mother Emanuel,’ it is one of the largest and oldest black congregations in the region, according to its Web site.
The pastor, Clementa Pinckney, who is also a state senator, was in the church at the time of the shooting, a Statehouse Democratic caucus member told the Post and Courier. His condition is not yet known.”
The shootings occurred around 9 p.m. ET at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The historic church has been a key site for Civil Rights and economic activism throughout history and in the 20th century.
FBI helicopters have joined the Charleston Police Department in it effort to catch the suspect.
The gunman remains at large.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement condemning the shooting and praying for the victims and their families.
“While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” Haley said. “Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”
According to Fox News, the shooting has also caused former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was scheduled to campaign in Charleston on Thursday, to cancel several of his events that were scheduled.
Charleston’s mayor Joseph P. Riley called the shooter—who is still at large—“one hateful person.”
“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” Riley said according to the Associated Press. “It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. … This is one hateful person.”
Residents are terrified as the situation continues to unfold.
College of Charleston graduate and local, Gregory Boyce, 23, told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview that he stood on a friend’s porch as helicopters patrolled the sky and a stream of unmarked police cars sped through the streets looking for the highly dangerous suspect.
“Police asked us if we saw anyone run by us and then demanded that we get inside and lock the door because it was an ‘active search’,” Boyce said.
Boyce then went on to tell Breitbart News that his residence was just blocks away from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and that access to his apartment has been restricted.