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Police Hunt for Church Shooter in Hate Crime

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06/18/2015 | 08:20am EDT

Charleston Police have identified Dylann Roof as the suspect in the massacre of nine people at a South Carolina historic black church Wednesday night?in what authorities described as a hate crime.

Police have asked the public for help in finding the 21-year-old from Lexington, S.C.

The shooter allegedly made anti-black statements, telling his victims that they were taking over the country and "raping our women," said a law enforcement authority familiar with the case. The shooter left one female witness alive, the authority said.

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting that will run parallel to the continuing investigation by state and local police, a spokesman for the agency said.

The manhunt continues for the suspect, who is thought to have sat for up to an hour in the church with those attending a prayer meeting before opening fire, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said.

"This is a situation that is unacceptable in any society, and especially in our society, in our city," Mr. Mullen said during a news conference. "We are committed to do whatever is needed to bring this individual to justice."

Mr. Mullen urged the public not to approach the suspect and to be vigilant, and if they see anything suspicious to immediately contact authorities.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called the shooter a "horrible scoundrel" and said law enforcement needs "every tip we get."

"This is what we can do. We can catch this no good, horrible person, and see that he pays the price," Mr. Riley said.

The shooting took place at the Emanuel AME Church, led by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a long-serving state senator. Mr. Pinckney was among those killed, police said. The victims included three males and six females, police said.

Mr. Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two daughters who began serving in the legislature in 1997, making him, at age 23, the youngest member of the House at the time. Emanuel Church is known as "Mother Emanuel," and describes itself as one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore.

Todd Rutherford, a Democratic state representative from Columbia who was a colleague and friend of Mr. Pinckney for years, said Thursday morning that everyone in South Carolina was stunned.

"This is a level of shock that I have never witnessed before," said Mr. Rutherford, who is House minority leader.

Mr. Rutherford said he spent much of Wednesday night and early Thursday morning talking with state and federal officials, and that he was worried about violent racists, "those lunatics who are happy about" the shooting.

"That is what has to stop," he said.

The shooting comes two months after the shooting death of Walter Scott, a black man who was unarmed when shot by a white officer in the neighboring city of North Charleston. The shooting was captured on video, triggered protests and led to murder charges against the policeman. The state legislature recently approved equipping all police officers with body cameras in the wake of the shooting.

Soon after Wednesday night's shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.

Community organizer Christopher Cason said he felt certain the shootings were racially motivated.

"I am very tired of people telling me that I don't have the right to be angry," Mr. Cason said. "I am very angry right now."

Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement that "while we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers."

The campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sent out an email saying that because of the shooting, the candidate had canceled an event planned in the city Thursday.

The Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church.

One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshiped underground until after the Civil War.

The shooting happened the day before the eighth anniversary of a fire at a furniture store that killed nine Charleston firefighters.

Devlin Barrett and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Write to Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com and Cameron McWhirter at cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com

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