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Nine killed in 'hate' shooting at historic black church

HATE CRIME: Nine people have been killed in shooting at historic black church in America

A PRAYER service became a massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, when a white suspect shot church members dead in a suspected hate crime, according to police.

Nine people have died in the shooting which took place early this morning (Jun 18).

Eight people died on the scene at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and one person was pronounced dead at a hospital, said police chief Gregory Mullen.

"I do believe this was a hate crime," Mullen said.

Among the dead was the state senator who was pastor of the church, Democrat Clementa Pinckney, reported US Today.

Pinckney, 41, was married with two children and had served in the state Senate since 2000, according to online biographies.

People were taking part in a prayer meeting at the time of the incident, Mayor Joe Riley said during the press conference.

"This is inexplicable," Riley said. "It is the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible ... The only reason someone could walk into church and shoot people praying is out of hate."

Mullen said: "This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience. It is senseless. It is unfathomable that someone would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives."

Mullen said the FBI would aid the investigation.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South and has one of the oldest and largest black congregations south of Baltimore, according to its website.

Police have said the gunman is still on the loose.

The suspect is a clean-shaven white male about 21 years old with sandy blond hair, and is wearing a gray sweatshirt or hoodie, blue jeans and Timberland boots, officials said.

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