A suspect is reportedly in custody after a gunman entered a church in Charleston, Carolina then shot dead nine worshippers.
The authorities have said that six females and three males, including the church's pastor, were killed by a lone white gunman in one of the most deadly church shootings in U.S. history.
Heavily armed law enforcement officers scoured the area into Thursday morning for the man responsible for the carnage. Three people were said to have survived the rampage.
The attacker, named as Dylann Storm Roof, 21, sat in on a bible study meeting for about an hour last night, according to reports, before opening fire in the historically-black Emanuel AME Church.
Witnesses reported that he stood up and said he was "there to shoot black people," according to local police, who say they are investigating the attack as a hate crime.
"The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told CNN.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney
Among the victims was the church's politically active pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, his cousin, South Carolina state Sen. Kent Williams, told CNN.
Pinckney was also a state senator and one of the black community's spokesmen after the slaying of an unarmed man by a North Charleston police officer earlier this year.
There were 13 people inside the church when the shooting happened — the shooter, the nine people who were killed and three survivors, South Carolina state Sen. Larry Grooms, who was briefed by law enforcement, told CNN. Two of the survivors were not harmed, he said.
It was not clear if the man targeted any individual.