Charleston church shooting: State senator, 8 others killed

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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A white man walked into a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and opened fire during a Bible study class, killing nine people Wednesday evening.

Three men and six women were killed in the shooting, police said at a 7 a.m. news update Thursday morning. One of those killed was a state senator who was also the church's pastor.

The suspect was caught before noon Thursday. Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of sitting on the prayer session for about an hour before opening fire.

The Department of Justice has announced that federal officials are opening a hate crime investigating into the case.

Police released a photo of the suspect during a 6 a.m. news conference Thursday. News broke that he caught about six hours later. Police said the man sat in the church for an hour before the shooting started.

The suspect is described as a younger while male.

The suspect is described as a younger while male.

Police asked the public to help circulate the photo of the suspect to help find him.

The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the South, is being investigated as a hate crime.

"The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate," Mayor Riley said.

Eight churchgoers died at the scene; a ninth at a hospital, police said. The church's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, is among those killed.

Officials wouldn't say how many people were at the prayer service during the shooting. There were survivors, said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, but he didn't elaborate.

People around the world are responding. Hartford Deputy Police Chief Foley was tweeting about the tragedy Thursday morning.

Historic significance

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been a presence in Charleton since 1816 when African-American members of Charleston's Methodist Episcopal Church formed their own congregation after a dispute over burial grounds.

It was burned to the ground at one point, but rebuilt.

Every Wednesday evening, the church holds a Bible study in its basement.

The shooting was "obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible," the mayor said.

"People in prayer Wednesday evening. A ritual, a coming together, praying, worshiping God. An awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable," Riley said.

Police received the first call around 9:05 p.m. Officers arrived to find several victims inside.

"It's really bad. It's a very bad scene," local pastor Thomas Dixon said.

Click here for more coverage of the Charleston church shooting. 

Heavy police presence

"Like everybody out here, we're sick to our stomachs that this could happen in a church," Rep. Dave Mack, a friend of the church's pastor, told CNN affiliate WCSC.

Corey Wessenger, who was standing across the street from the church, said the area was swarming with law enforcement.

"I just saw a group of about 40 people escorted by cops," Wessenger told CNN by phone.

Community members gathered in a prayer circle just down the street from the scene.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush canceled a scheduled town hall in Charleston on Thursday "due to the tragic events unfolding in South Carolina tonight."