A white man walked into a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, opening fire during a Wednesday evening Bible study class, killing nine people, according to local authorities.
The shooting took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the South. Police are investigating the massacre as a hate crime.
The suspect is described as being in his early 20s and 5 foot 9 in height. "He has on a very distinctive sweatshirt as well as the vehicle, with a very distinctive license plate," Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said.
"This is an all hands on deck effort with the community as well as law enforcement," Mullen went on to say. "When people go out they should be vigilant, they should be aware of their surroundings. And if they see anything suspicious, they should call law enforcement."
Authorities believe the suspect is still in the Charleston area.
"The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate," said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
Eight members of the congregation died at the scene while a ninth perished at a local hospital, according to police. The church's pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was one of those who perished.
While officials did not say how many people were at the Bible study during the incident they did say there had been survivors.
Authorities described the man as armed and dangerous and encouraged residents to report any sightings to police.