On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtownCharleston, South Carolina, United States. The church is one of the United States’ oldest black churches and has long been a site for community organizing around civil rights. Nine people were killed, including the senior pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, astate senator. A tenth victim was also shot, but survived.
In the immediate aftermath, police sought a white male later identified as Dylann Roof, who was captured the morning after the attack in Shelby, North Carolina. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime and as a potential act of domestic terrorism by the United States Department of Justice. Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder by the State of South Carolina. The shooting is the deadliest attack to occur at an American place of worship since a 1991 shooting at a Buddhist temple in Waddell, Arizona, in which nine people also died.
The 199-year-old church has played an important role in the history of South Carolina, including the slavery era and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement in the 2010s The church was founded in 1816 and is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South, often referred to as “Mother Emanuel.” It is the oldest historically black congregationsouth of Baltimore. When one of the church’s co-founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to start a slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822, 35 people, including Vesey, were executed and the church was burned down. Charleston citizens accepted that the slave rebellion was to begin at the stroke of midnight on June 16, 1822, and to erupt the following day; the shooting occurred on the 193rd anniversary of the thwarted uprising. The rebuilt church was formally shuttered with other all-black congregations by the city in 1834, meeting in secret until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, acquired the name Emanuel (“God with us”), and rebuilt upon a design by Denmark Vesey’s son. The current structure dates from 1891.
At around 9:05 p.m. EDT on June 17, 2015, the Charleston Police Department responded to calls of a shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church. A man described as white, with sandy-blond hair, around 21 years old and 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm) in height, wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans, opened fire on the church during a Bible study attended by Pinckney with a .45-caliber handgun and then fled.
All of the victims were black, consisting of six women and three men. Eight died at the scene, while the ninth, Daniel Simmons, died in the hospital. They were all killed by multiple gunshots fired at close range. One other unidentified person was wounded, but survived. Five individuals survived the shooting unharmed, including Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza, and her granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard, a bible study member. Pinckney’s wife and daughter were also inside the building during the shooting. The fatalities were identified as:
Dylann Roof (born April 3, 1994) was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the suspected killer after his father and uncle contacted police to positively identify him upon seeing security photos of him in the news. He was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and was living in largely African-American Eastover at the time of the attack. Roof was unemployed. One image from his Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of two nations noted for their white supremacist and racial segregation policies, apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. Another online photo showed Roof sitting on the hood of his car with an ornamental license plate with a Confederate flag on it.