Man arrested following South Carolina church massacre

Man arrested following South Carolina church massacre

Police in South Carolina, US have arrested a 21-year-old suspected of carrying out a massacre at a historic black church.

Dylann Roof is in custody following the horrific attack. 

Earlier today a white man, believed to be Dylann Roff, opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in the US, killing nine people in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime.

The suspect attended the meeting at the church in Charleston on Wednesday night and stayed for nearly an hour before the deadly gunfire erupted, Police Chief Greg Mullen said.

Mr Mullen said he could not offer a make and model on the dark coloured sedan because investigators were not certain about what is shown in the video.

The victims of the shooting were six females and three males, Mr Mullen said. He did not give other details about the victims.

Mr Mullen said he believed the attack at the Emanuel AME Church was a hate crime.

The suspect was described as a white man in his early 20s.

"This is a very dangerous individual," Mullen said during a news conference.

"We want to identify this individual and arrest him before he hurts anyone else," the chief said.

Mr Mullen said he had no reason to think the suspect has left the Charleston area, but was distributing information about him and the vehicle around the country.

Mr Mullen said the scene at the church was chaotic when police arrived, and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away.

"We will put all effort, we will put all resources and we will put all of our energy into finding this individual who committed this crime tonight," he said.

The FBI will aid the investigation, Mr Mullen told an earlier news conference that was attended by FBI Special Agent in Charge David A Thomas.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P Riley Jr called the shooting "an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind".

"Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained," Mr Riley said.

"We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family."

State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford said that the church's pastor, state Sen Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.

Mr Pinckney 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.

"He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should," Mr Rutherford said.

"He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."

The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighbouring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area.

The officer has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Mr Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.

In a statement, Gov Nikki Haley asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families and decried violence at religious institutions.

The Emmanuel AME church is an 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 organise a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

A Justice Department spokesman later said that federal officials are opening a hate crime investigation into the fatal shooting.

The spokesman said that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and the US Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina will lead the probe.