Charleston shooting grips country; S.C. leaders speak out

Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church, killing multiple people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (MEDIA GENERAL) – A mass shooting at a black church late Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, has grabbed the attention of the country.

Social media is abuzz after nine people were shot dead and the suspect remains at large after a white man, reportedly in his twenties, attended a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour before opening fire. Six women and three men were killed, including State Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41, the pastor of the church. View a gallery of images here.

The hashtag #CharlestonShooting is the top trending topic on Twitter in the U.S.

Some of the state’s top leaders are sharing their thoughts and prayers for the Charleston community.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley released a statement, saying: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do not know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said, “My heart is breaking for Charleston and South Carolina tonight. This senseless tragedy at a place of worship – where people come together to laugh, love and rejoice in God’s name – is absolutely despicable and can never be understood. Tonight, we stand together in prayer for Pastor Pinckney and his congregation at Emanuel AME.”

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, when prompted during a press conference early Thursday, confirmed law enforcement officials are investigating the incident as a hate crime, said, “This is inexplicable. It is the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible. … The only reason someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate.”

NAACP President & CEO Cornell William Brooks said he and his organization was “founded to fight against racial hatred, and we are outraged that 106 years later, we are faced today with another mass hate crime.”

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