Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was supposed to meet veterans Thursday morning at the Charleston Maritime Center. Instead, it will be the site of a news conference as Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. and Police Chief Gregory Mullen provide updates on a mass shooting that left nine people dead on Wednesday.
Bush canceled his event Wednesday night as police searched for the suspect, a white man who opened fire inside a historic black church in an incident that both the mayor and chief of police said was a “hate crime.” Police were still searching early Thursday morning in Charleston for the suspect, who they described as a 21-year-old male, and asked local residents for help.
Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. described the scene as a “most unspeakable, heartbreaking tragedy.”
“This is one hateful person that did these dastardly deeds,” Riley told reporters in Charleston.
Police Chief Greg Mullen declined to identify victims or survivors while speaking to reporters at a news conference. “This was a hate crime,” Mullen said.
Mullen said police received a call about the shooting on Wednesday at 9:05 p.m., and officers found eight people dead when they arrived at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Two people were transported to the Medical University of South Carolina, where one died. Mullen described the shooter as having sandy-blond hair and being “extremely dangerous.” A post on the police department’s Twitter feed described the suspect as having a slender build and wearing a gray sweatshirt and Timberland boots.
“This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience,” he said. “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives. And I can assure you that we’re going to do everything in our power to find this individual, lock him up, to make sure that he does not hurt anyone else.”
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, asked for prayers for the families affected by the shooting.
“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,” Haley said in a statement.
Bush posted a message on Twitter saying his “thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families affected by the tragic events in Charleston.”